The English Patient

The 1996 film is the only major adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (1992).  However, there are about half a dozen books claiming to give “the true story behind the English Patient” or something similar—an interesting reversal of the usual order of adaptation, since in this case the “original” story gets told after the novel is published.  There is a 2010 article from Der Spiegel that gives a brief telling of the “true” story, based on some letters that had been recently released:


There were a couple of parodies of the film made by sketch comedy groups:


YouTube also hosts an “adaptation” of a single scene from the movie, probably made as a senior project by film students:


There was a Seinfeld episode called “The English Patient” that centers on Elaine’s lack of interest in the film:


Getting further away from the novel, there is a short short story called “The English Patient, Dr Zhivago and the Purposeful Stride” by Ivana Hruba, self-published on Amazon.  The story is a pretty ham-fisted inversion of romantic love-at-first-sight stories, for which “The English Patent” seems to serve as a synecdoche.  There is a also small amount of English Patient fanfiction around, but it’s not close to the volume produced by, for instance, fans of the Brontës.

One thought on “The English Patient

  1. Thanks Jeff,

    You’ve opened up a really useful/perplexing/challenging theme with the “true story” behind “The English Patient”. How faithful to external fact do adaptations (or original works for that matter) have to be? Do we go to Saxo Grammaticus for “Hamlet”? And what do we do with famous clinker in “Winter’s Tale” in which there’s a scene on the “coast” of Bohemia? Or to Keats’ misnaming of “stout Cortez” in the Chapman sonnet? or Fitzgerald referring to Central Park as being “east” of 138 St, instead of “south”? etc. If anyone’s interested, there’s a textual survey of these problems of external fact by Tom Tanselle.External Fact as an Editorial Problem : G. Thomas Tanselle (Vol 32: 1979) [pp. 1-47] (Studies in Bibliography, full text onlne.

    The separate/parallel story of Magwitch takes in yet another direction. Does anyone have other examples ? (ii.e not prequels or sequels but ?”paraquels”?

    I found it interesting that the South Park version is narratively pretty faithful (with the lovely irony of Malcolm McDowell of “Clockwork Orange” fame doing an Alaster Cookie role), but immediately opens up a rhetorical gap by Estella’s foul-mouthed insults to Pip.

    Thanks again, Jeff. You’re doing a great job.

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