'The English Patient' Television Adaptation in the Works at the BBC

Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas in "The English Patient" (Photo: Miramax)

The BBC is reportedly working on a limited series television adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s award-winning novel The English Patient. 

Many of you are probably aware of the 1996 film version, which starred Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas, and was nominated for 12 Academy Awards. It won nine, including Best Picture, Best Director for Anthony Minghella, and Best Supporting Actress for Juliette Binoche. According to Deadline, this new BBC version is not meant to be a straight remake of the movie, but rather a new interpretation of author Ondaatje’s critically acclaimed novel. What that means, precisely is anyone's guess, but the book does feature a very different style of exposition than the film does so that might be a natural place to start.

The book, which was first published in 1992, follows the story of four people who find themselves in an abandoned monastery in northern Italy in the last months of World War II.

It is told out of sequence, and the story moves back and forth between the memories of the eponymous protagonist, an unrecognizably burnt amnesiac man with an English accent, and the current events at the Italian monastery where he is a patient. The mysterious man is being cared for by Hana, a troubled young Canadian Army nurse, and several chapters are also devoted to the story of Kip, an Indian Sikh, during his time in England training and working as a sapper on unexploded ordnance. 

Though it may seem unlikely given this description, The English Patient is actually painfully romantic, a story of doomed love, tragedy, grief, and survival. And while the 1996 film was pretty perfect, this is the sort of story that may well benefit from the increased run-time of a limited series versus a feature film.

Unsurprisingly, there are few specifics known about the BBC project just yet, beyond the fact that it's currently being led by Emily Ballou, a writer and producer who has been involved with series like Run, Taboo, and the upcoming Starz period drama Becoming Elizabeth.

What do you think of the prospect of an English Patient TV series? Let's discuss in the comments. 

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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