The Germans who shoot at Almásy's plane at the beginning were actually tourists roped into the production because they couldn't afford any more extras.
Ralph Fiennes' burn make-up took 5 hours to apply every day. Fiennes insisted that the full body make-up be applied even for the scenes where only his head would be filmed.
Kristin Scott Thomas was cast after writing a letter to director Anthony Minghella which included the statement "I am 'K' in your film".
Juliette Binoche knew she wanted to be in the film the minute she read the scene when Kip shows Hana the fresco paintings on the walls of a church.
Bruce Willis was offered the role of Caravaggio but was talked out of taking the role by his then agent. He later admitted in interviews to regretting this decision.
In 2005, Juliette Binoche had her Oscar touched up by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her three-year-old son was fond of playing with it and it had subsequently become tarnished and peeling. One of the perks of being an Oscar-winner is that you can have your Oscar repaired for free by the Academy.
Originally, 20th Century Fox was to finance the film, but disputes arose between the studio and the producers over casting. In particular, Fox preferred a more well-known actress to play Katharine Clifton instead of Kristin Scott Thomas; Demi Moore was lobbying particularly hard for the role. After the producers refused to give in on a series of casting choices, Fox backed out of the film, and the project was uncertain just as production was about to begin. However, within a few weeks - during which the cast and crew stayed on in Italy without knowing if the film would be made - the film was picked up by Miramax.
Anthony Minghella read the novel in one sitting after completing a previous shoot in New York; when he finished, he was completely disoriented and at first couldn't remember where he was, but he phoned Saul Zaentz the next morning to try and interest him in the project. Saul Zaentz not only read the book but discovered that author Michael Ondaatje was giving a reading near Saul Zaentz's home that weekend.
Ralph Fiennes' burnt head make-up had not only to be medically accurate but had also to subtly reflect map-making and cartography, one of the film's major themes.
Kristin Scott Thomas actively lobbied Anthony Minghella for the part of Katherine. Minghella was dubious at first, especially after their first meeting which Scott-Thomas labeled as "disastrous".
Early into the production, Anthony Minghella fell over and broke his ankle. Therefore for much of the shoot he was either in plaster or crutches.
Was the first digitally-edited film to win an Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Walter Murch). Murch began editing the film mechanically, but then switched to the Avid system after his son suffered a medical emergency so that he could work from his home while his son recovered. Murch writes about the experience in his book "In the Blink of an Eye (2nd Ed.)."
Saul Zaentz had been a particular fan of Anthony Minghella's first film Truly Madly Deeply (1990) and had made it clear that he would like to work with the director. He was therefore delighted when Minghella brought him the book by Michael Ondaatje.
In the scene where Hana is being pulled up to see the paintings in the church, the electric power and smoke for her "torch" was being piped through the seemingly real rope on which she was sitting.
Saul Zaentz provided $6,000,000 of the budget himself in return for a guarantee he would get final cut.
The character name, 'Kip', apparently was Michael Ondaatje's nickname at school. This was a reference to cooking oil stains on his exercise books which reminded the wags among his fellow pupils of kipper fish which were canned in such oil.
This is the second film in which Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche starred together, the first was Wuthering Heights (1992).
Sean Connery was actively considering playing the part of Caravaggio before he backed out of the production.
Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas became good friends and starred together in more 2 films: Chromophobia (2005) and The Invisible Woman (2013).
Almost every reverse angle shot following a desert vista was done on a soundstage due to budgetary constraints.
While there is the suggestion that the mysterious English patient has been shot down and fallen from the sky at the start of the film, there is a more explicit scene at the end of the film that was cut, depicting Almasy slowly falling to earth, dangling from a pure white parachute shown against a clear blue sky, the upper part of his body engulfed in flames ("The heart is an organ of fire" is a quote from the film). The scene is mentioned on the Saul Zaentz Co. website: "Blue screen work that involved the opening and the closing scenes of the film, in which the unnamed pilot and a lifeless woman are shot out of the sky and fall to earth, were completed on the main sound stage at Cinecitta, and production wrapped on January 31, 1996." The scene was shown on a CBC broadcast of an interview with Anthony Minghella but never appeared in the final cut of the ending of the film.
Count Lazlo's talk about cutting his heart out every night to find it full by morning echoes the myth of Prometheus and the punishment Zeus ordained for Prometheus stealing the secret of fire.
The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Juliette Binoche and Colin Firth; and three Oscar nominees: Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Willem Dafoe.
When Twentieth Century Fox was involved in the film, they tried to talk the producers out of casting Willem Dafoe and suggested three choices for the role of Caravaggio: John Goodman, Danny DeVito, or Richard Dreyfuss.
Nicole Kidman revealed in 2011 that she met with Anthony Minghella to discuss a possible role in this film, but was eventually turned down. They later worked together on Cold Mountain (2003).
The motorcycle that Kip rides throughout the film, sometimes with Hana, is a Triumph 350cc 3HW. Triumph was the make of motorcycle actually specified in the original novel upon which the film is based.
At a charity auction in New York in 2001, a shirt worn by Ralph Fiennes in the film fetched over $1900.
Both Naveen Andrews and Kevin Whately had to learn to ride motorcycles for the film. There was some concern that Andrews would not pass his test before filming began but he completed his course successfully.
When Kip (Naveen Andrews) is packing his things before he leaves he also packs up the belongings of Hardy (Kevin Whately). Among the belongings is a scarf for Sunderland AFC (a football club based in North East England). In real life the actor Kevin Whately is a committed, life-long supporter of Newcastle United Football Club who share a heated rivalry with Sunderland AFC.
The two biplanes used by the cartographers were original 1930s aircraft designs, the yellow one an American Stearman Model 75; the silver one a British De Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth. Of the two, the Stearman is unlikely to have been in the possession of a (British) civilian during the 1930s - nearly all were built for the US military as primary trainers. There were a few hundred civilian-operated Tiger Moths, however, and it is quite likely that a cartographer in the employ of the RGS would have access to one. Both types were heavily used before and during WW2 and many military surplus versions were operated by civilians postwar.
Was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the "Best of Film 1996" at position #1 in the in their year end review issue dated December 23, 1996.
The only Best Picture Oscar nominee of the year to be also nominated for Adapted Screenplay.
First of three movies about World War II that Kristin Scott Thomas starred in, the others are: Sarah's Key (2010) and Suite Française (2014).
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
According to Clive Merrison in a interview with Toby Hadoke he was on the film for a month but his role was cut to one scene. He also revealed that many other actors had their role totally deleted from the film.
This film has two Christ actors. Willem Dafoe played Jesus Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), while Ralph Fiennes was the voice of Jesus in The Miracle Maker (2000), an animated TV movie.
In one scene, Almásy mentions to Katherine that he grew up in Budapest, in 2014 Ralph Fiennes starred in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.