Ralph Fiennes before ”The English Patient”
Screen chemistry is never easy to predict, but when actors have it, it’s unmistakable, and when they don’t, it’s unwatchable. Although not romantic, the scenes in The English Patient between Count Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) and his nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche), were filled with the delicate tenderness of two people in need of refuge from the vicissitudes of passion. But before the two actors banked their fires in last year’s Oscar winner (now finally on video) they lit a flame in a little-seen classic remake from 1991, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, coming to video for the first time on Oct. 14.
In Fiennes’ first film role, and Binoche’s first playing an Englishwoman, the two future Oscar nominees give inspired performances as ill-fated lovers Heathcliff and Catherine. ”It’s amusing to think about it now, but it was very difficult persuading Paramount to accept Ralph in the part,” recalls director Peter Kosminsky, who made and released the film in England. ”His reputation then was as a clean-cut stage actor, but I could see there was a darker and very troubled side to him.”
Kosminsky wasn’t the only one impressed by Fiennes’ tortured performance. After viewing a tape of Wuthering Heights, Steven Spielberg had Fiennes read for the part of concentration-camp commandant Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, which earned the actor his first Oscar nomination. ”It was seen as perverse casting,” recalls Kosminsky, ”to put someone who was known for playing English aristocrats as Heathcliff and a French actress as Cathy, but there seemed to be a crackle between them.” Five years later, Fiennes and Binoche were reunited by English Patient director Anthony Minghella. Moor power to them.