The English Patient, scripted and directed by Anthony Minghella, is
an epic tale of love, war and betrayal. Based on Michael Ondaatje’s
Booker Prize-winning novel, the film features a clutch of experienced
actors such as Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette
The film was financed by Disney company Miramax after 20th Century Fox
backed out over the casting of the relatively unknown Scott Thomas.
Shot on location in Tunisia, Venice and Tuscany on a pounds 19 million
budget, the film topped the US box office in October 1996 and was due
for release in the UK by Buena Vista International on 14 March 1997.
To establish the film as ’an event picture’ and to achieve ’bums on
seats and big receipts’ at UK box offices by highlighting the British
author and actors involvement in the film and its Oscar potential.
Buena Vista’s prime concern in October 1996 was that interest
surrounding the film’s US success had crossed the Atlantic and was in
danger of fizzling out prior to the UK release. To pace and sustain the
publicity campaign through to March 1997, it hired film PR specialists
Corbett and Keene.
In a carefully timed campaign the agency sent journalists invitations to
screenings in January and February, with a variety of dates to choose
One of the main headaches was co-ordinating availability with the stars
and passing every interview and picture with their individual
Nevertheless, press conferences with Minghella, Binoche and other stars
were set up in February and March. The regional press were brought to
London for a separate conference with Fiennes and Scott Thomas at the
Dorchester Hotel on 3 March.
Throughout this period Corbett and Keene played up the film’s success at
the Golden Globes in January and its 12 Oscar nomimations.
At the end of February, competitions were run on national radio and GMTV
to win holidays to Tunisia, courtesy of the Tunisian Tourist Board. OK
magazine ran a competition in the week of 7 March, to win a holiday to
As Fiennes was starring in Ivanov at the Almeida, the premiere at the
Curzon Cinema, Mayfair was held on 2 March. This was followed by a
dinner for 500 at a private house.
The launch generated news stories and features across the national
dailies and Sundays as well as across the glossy consumer magazines and
specialist film titles. Media Research, which monitored the broadcast
coverage, said that the film had generated 180 clips on television and
radio, overtaking the coverage for last year’s blockbuster Independence
To date, The English Patient is reported to have taken over pounds 11
million in the UK. This is impressive, considering that its length
confined many cinemas to just one evening showing. By comparison, Jerry
Maguire starring Tom Cruise, which has been out two weeks longer, has so
far netted pounds 9 million in the UK.
Undoubtably this film was an enormous success. Serious media interest
was shored up by accusations - notably from the Daily Telegraph - that
the film was not British but a Hollywood blockbuster whose success was
down to the Disney machine.
However, the reason your average punter paid to see it seemed to be
because everybody was talking about it.
Nick Higham, BBC News arts correspondent, says: ’The film was clearly
well sold by its publicity. But after all the hype, when I finally saw
it, I was disappointed.’
Client: Buena Vista International Ltd
PR Team: Corbett and Keene
Campaign: UK launch of The English Patient
Timescale: October 1996 - July 1997
Cost: pounds 13,500