Price: $310.00

    Code: 2335

    Directed by Geoffrey Smith
    2008, 94 minutes
    Purchase: $310 Classroom Rental: $125

    What is it like to have God like surgical powers, yet to struggle against your own humanity? What is it like to try and save a life, and yet to fail? This film follows renowned brain surgeon Henry Marsh as he openly confronts the dilemmas of the doctor patient relationship on his latest mission to the Ukraine.

    Driven by the need to help others where he can, Henry, one of London's foremost brain surgeons, has been going out to Kiev for over 15 years to help improve upon the medieval brain surgery he witnessed there during his first visit in 1992. Today the patients see him as the great savior from the West, desperate parents want him to save their child, and his Ukrainian colleague Igor Kurilets (who is attempting to open Ukraine's first independent neurosurgical clinic) sees him as a guru and a benefactor. But for all the direct satisfaction he gets from going, Henry also sees grossly misdiagnosed patients, children who he can't save, and a lack of equipment and trained supporting staff.

    It is this dilemma however; a dilemma of his own making that is what's so interesting about Henry, what lets his troubled and compassionate humanity through, and what is the universal theme at the centre of the film; the struggle to do good things in a selfish and flawed world.

    Devoted to his patients, he has to work within the logistical and political constraints such a maverick career choice presents him with. Instead of an expensive medical drill for boring into patient's skulls, Igor has bought a cordless Bosch handyman drill from the local market; and because he needed rooms to rent for his independent clinic he has found a temporary refuge in the KGB hospital, the very place which for years housed people who tried to persecute him and Henry for working outside of the State system.

    Ironies such as these abound in revolutionary Kiev, and through patients such as Marian Dolishny we intimately witness life in this topsy-turvy land. Marian is very poor and is from a small town in Western Ukraine. His religious faith helps him cope with a brain tumor which is causing him severe epilepsy, but he knows that it will ultimately kill him.

    Marian has been told that his tumor is inoperable in the Ukraine, but Henry believes he can save him. To do so Marian must be awake throughout the entire operation however, and this surreal set of circumstances give rise to a dramatic, humorous and unforgettable 15 minute scene filmed with three cameras inside the operating theatre.

    The emotional climax of the film is a journey to the South West of the country where Henry visits the mother of a young girl he tried to save but failed - an operation that haunts him to this day.

    With an original soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, The English Surgeon openly confronts moral and ethical issues which touch every one of us.

    Subjects & Collections

    Festivals & Awards

    Emmy Winner, Emmy for Outstanding Science and Technology Programming, 2010
    Winner, Best International Feature Documentary, Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival, 2008
    Winner, Best International Feature Documentary, Hot Docs Film Festival, 2008


    “Enthralling, astonishing...agonizingly human.” – The New York Times

    “An extraordinarily enthralling film... what a loss it would have been to have missed a moment of it.” - Wall Street Journal

    "Highly recommended!" - Video Librarian

    “Highly recommended . This documentary is exceedingly well done, and aired on PBS’ POV series. In addition to wonderful filming, it has a lovely original soundtrack. It is highly recommended for library collections supporting the health sciences, particularly those supporting medical and nursing programs, but it is accessible enough for the general public. Medical students considering the field of neurosurgery will find this of particular interest.” - Educational Media Reviews Online

    "A lovely film, the best documentary for a long time.” – The Guardian

    "Deeply touching, resonant and even sentimental, in its affirmation of human goodness.” - Variety

    “A gorgeous and utterly moving portrait." - Indiewire

    "One triumph that you should not miss." – The Independent

    "This is one extraordinary documentary, approaching hugely emotive subject matter with nimble delicacy and, it has to be said, steely reserve when it comes to filming a brain operation performed under only local anesthetic. A life-affirming, unforgettable portrait of a true humanitarian.” – Time Out

    "No scene in any film showing at the London Film Festival is tenser than the one two thirds of the way through The English Surgeon. It is the pivotal moment in a documentary which has its world premiere at the festival on Tuesday and is by turns funny, frightening and deeply moving.” – The Times (UK)