Posted on Wednesday, August 18th, 2021 by Joshua Meyer
There was a time in the 1990s when not liking Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-winning film, The English Patient, could lead to social ostracization, at least for sitcom characters on a show called Seinfeld. Now comes word that the BBC is developing a television adaptation of the Michael Ondaatje novel that provided the source material for The English Patient film.
Deadline reports that The English Patient TV adaptation will be “a new interpretation of Ondaatje’s book, which follows four dissimilar people brought together at an Italian villa during World War II.” It’s not a remake, which is probably for the best, though it seems hard to ignore Minghella’s film altogether. Chances are, something of the movie will make it into the TV series on a visual level, or maybe it will just inform certain choices about what not to do as the series tries to avoid comparisons.
The BBC version of The English Patient will be a Miramax and Paramount co-production, with Emily Ballou (Taboo, Run) at the helm. Evidently, Miramax is raiding its film library for IP. It also has a Justin Timberlake-led re-adaptation of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in development at Apple TV+, as well as a TV reboot of Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic and a series based on Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen.
Seinfeld Did It First?
Let’s return to March 1997, when Seinfeld aired its 151st episode, also entitled, “The English Patient.” A week and a half later, The English Patient, the movie, took home nine Oscars, including Best Picture, at the 69th Academy Awards.
On Seinfeld, Elaine Benes, the character played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who later starred in HBO’s Veep and who joined the MCU this year as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine), was not so enamored of The English Patient. She was much more inclined to see a sold-out movie called Sack Lunch about “a family in a brown paper bag.” However, she ran into some friends outside the theater, who said The English Patient was “even better the second time.”
Elaine promptly quipped, “They make it longer?” All these years later, it would appear that Miramax has accepted her pitch by greenlighting this TV adaptation of The English Patient.
For her part, Elaine found that not appreciating Minghella’s film could get you fired or even lead to a trip to Tunisia as your boss sought to inspire you with the desert where they shot the movie. Her boyfriend broke up with her over the whole affair, saying: “To tell you the truth, Elaine, I don’t know if I can be with someone who doesn’t like The English Patient.”
As a budding young cinephile filled with teenage wisdom, I remember weeping profusely when I first watched The English Patient on some Blockbuster night long ago. Years later, after I had grown older and more jaded, I rewatched the movie and my reaction was closer to that of Elaine. I kept rolling my eyes, thinking, “Oh, the tragic romance of it all. Puh-lease.”
If The English Patient hit theaters today, you can bet there would be more of an online backlash — and a backlash to the backlash — arguing whether it really deserved the Best Picture honor over, say, the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. Elaine, for one, was having none of it back in ’97. In the theater, The English Patient drove her to shout at the screen: “It’s too long! Quit telling your stupid story about the stupid desert and just die already! Die!”
Your mileage may vary on whether this new English Patient deserves to die, but Elaine’s boss forced her to sit through it again, and Hollywood is no stranger to doing that, either.
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