THE ENGLISH PATIENT
Fine and dandy
As the ill-fated lover in The English Patient, Ralph Fiennes has had to prove he is much more than a pretty face. Those who loved him in Schindler's List will not be disappointed. Words: Ellie Carr
HE’S DASHlNG. Very dashing. In a jaw- juttingly handsome, finely-chiselled cheek- bones, fine-upstanding English actor kind of way. And, boy, does he know how to use it. Ralph Fiennes — say it ‘rafe fines’ — has smouldered his way across stage and screen playing everything from Hamlet and Heathcliff to the brutally charismatic Amon Goeth in Schindler's List. Always present is that special star quality of extreme good looks that can be hard to disassociate from the raw acting talent beneath.
Those looks have also got the gossip columns working overtime on account of Fiennes’s private life. Last year, he split from his wife, Alex Kingston — television’s Moll Flanders — and took up with actress Francesca Annis who, at 5], is nineteen years his senior. The two became close during the Broadway run of Hamlet, in which Annis played Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude.
In The English Patient, Fiennes plays Count Lazlo de Almasy, an Anglo-Hungarian explorer and linguist who is shot down over the North African desert during World War ll. For half the ﬁlm, which ﬂits between Africa and Italy in ﬂashback, Fiennes is as dashing as ever. All English reserve is thrown to the desert winds as his character conducts a
passionate, illicit affair with co-star Kristin Scott Thomas. For the rest of the film though, good looks don’t come into it — he lies burnt beyond recognition in a ruined Italian mon- astery, unable to do more than move his lips to speak.
This role proves what we always knew: our Ralph was a fine actor long before he was a pin-up. Steven Spielberg, who cast him in Schindler's List after seeing a single take, has said of him: ‘If he picks the right roles and doesn’t forget the theatre, I think he can eventually be Alec Guinness or Laurence Olivier.’ Perhaps The English Patient will be the film that seals that, especially since he has
Fiennes has that special star quality of extreme good looks that can be hard to disassociate from the raw acting talent beneath.
also kept in touch with stagecraft, and is currently treading the boards in Chekhov‘s Ivanov at London’s Almeida Theatre.
Unlike dear Larry though, Fiennes isn’t as typically old-school English as he looks. He was brought up in around fifteen different homes in Suffolk and rural Ireland by his farmer-turned-photographer father and novelist and travel writer mother. In the course of moving from English pillar to Irish post,
Count me in: Ralph Fiennes
Ralph and his five younger siblings were schooled by Episcopalians, Catholics, Quakers and, for two years, by their mother.
Following a stint at Chelsea Art School, Fiennes went to RADA where he was nicknamed ‘Voice Beautiful’ by classmates. He then took the logical step for a dashing chap with a nice voice and acted in a string of Shakespeare productions.
His first screen role was in TV’s Prime Suspect, followed in the cinema by Wuthering Heights. It wasn’t until he was talent-spotted by Spielberg and cast as the Nazi, Goeth, in Schindler’s List that the stage actor became a movie star. As the oh-so-smooth Charles Van Doren in Quiz Show and a strageg cyberhustler in Strange Days, Spielberg’s protege has proved he has a wild spark that goes way beyond the RADA rule book.
Fiennes himself, shy but down- to-earth offscreen, believes it is a rule book he might do well to rip up. ‘The education gives you a certain control about what you do, but I sometimes wish I could get rid of it,’ he said five months into filming The English Patient. ‘The things that you cannot control are sometimes the most interesting. I believe that is the secret of some of the best actors. They have kept something with which they surprise themselves.’
MOST PEOPLE WOULD be content to file Kristin Scott Thomas under the same 'English rose‘ heading as Helena Bonham Carter. Certainly, starring roles in films such as A Handful Of Dust, Bitter Moon and Richard III underlined the cool. classy, emotionally detached side of her persona. It was even there in her BAFTA-winning turn as the torch-carrying Fiona in Four Weddings And A Funeral. But that’s where the stereotypes end. Scott Thomas was born in Dorset and, after a period at Cheltenham Ladies College, she tried out a theatre directing course in London before shifting to Paris and making her stage debut as an actress in French. Her first film role was, bizarrely enough, as an heiress romanced by Prince in Under The Cherry Moon; but it's France, not Hollywood or England, where she has made her home with her doctor husband and two children.
Occasional forays across the Channel supplement regular appearances on screen in the French language.
Last year, as a spy in blockbuster Mission: Impossible, she had fun in a rare action environ- ment. and her Oscar-nominated performance as Katharine Clifton in The English Patient has also revealed her talents to a wider audience. Katharine is Scott Thomas's most openly passion- ate role to date. as the character's aristocratic reserve is cast aside for an all-consuming affair with Ralph Fiennes's Almasy.
'Kristin's screen presence has true stillness,’ says the film’s director, Anthony Minghella. 'She has elegance and poise which underpin Katharine's unvarnished candour and which seem to belong to another age.’
Desert bloom: Kristin Scott Thomas
8 TIIEUST 7-20 Mar 1997