Anthony Minghella's lavish adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's novel is the sort of movie that people lament isn't made anymore: a sweeping romantic adventure in the tradition of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and OUT OF AFRICA. Set mostly during World War II, but moving skillfully

between related narratives in North Africa and Italy, it tells the story of the great love of Almasy (Ralph Fiennes), a Hungarian explorer, and a recently married painter, Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Interwoven with flashbacks of the couple's increasingly passionate and ill-fated affair are

scenes in which Hana (Juliette Binoche), a French-Canadian nurse in a ruined monastery in Tuscany, cares for an enigmatic, badly burned man known only as "The English Patient." The narrative surprises are often telegraphed in advance, but the intelligence and scope of Minghella's robust and

attentive direction go a long way toward maintaining viewer interest. Fiennes is solid, if occasionally a little remote, as the dashing man of action. But Kristin Scott Thomas is the film's revelation: Consigned to supporting roles in films like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and BITTER MOON, she

takes center stage as a smart, fearless woman who's utterly irresistible.