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THE ENGLISH SURGEON

Director: GEOFFREY SMITH

U.K. • 2007 • COLOUR • 94 MIN


HOW WOULD YOU COPE WITH HAVING THE POWER OF LIFE OR DEATH OVER OTHERS? NEUROSURGEON HENRY MARSH FACES SUCH DECISIONS ON A DAILY BASIS.
Removing a brain tumour from a patient could save their life, but the procedure might also kill or handicap them. It’s testing enough to deal with this in a top London hospital, but the ever-suave Marsh also helps out for free in the Ukraine, where scant resources make the choices even starker. Although made for the BBC’s ‘Storyville’ strand, this feature documentary really belongs on the cinema screen, and not just because its hugely emotive subject matter demands a communal viewing experience. There’s understated craftsmanship too in the way director Geoffrey Smith gives his material dramatic shape while eavesdropping on moments of high-stakes human drama, and his camera displays a Georges Franju-like steely concentration during a brain operation performed under only local anaesthetic. This is an unforgettable portrait of a true humanitarian, and a hugely compassionate film.—Trevor Johnston.

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