The English Surgeon

‘The English Surgeon’ is a masterful documentary film about hard lives, brain surgery and hope in Ukraine. Brain surgeon Henry Marsh has been coming from his London home to Kyiv for 15 years to operate on desparate Ukrainians considered inoperable, misdiagnosed or unable to afford surgery. Working with his protege Igor Kurilets under primitive conditions, in a former KGB hospital, they manage to prolong potentially short lives, save others and lose some too.

The strong bond and professional respect between Henry and Igor is at the core of the story, and along comes Marian, a poor man from a distant village who suffers increasingly severe epilepsy from a brain tumour. Marian’s prognosis is poor as his condition declines with tumour growth, and he travels to Kyiv for an operation to remove it.

Henry and Igor are humanitarians, full of good humour. Although touched by the tragedy around them, they are practical men, who handle life and death frankly and with grace. Marian shares their optimisim, putting his life literally in their hands, and agreeing to remain awake during his operation to ensure the best outcome by answering questions and movements.

For each trip Henry packs a suitcase with surgical equipment recovered from English hospital disposals of once-used items, and also sends old operating theatre items to the Kyiv clinic. Nevertheless Igor must improvise with a cordless Bosch drill for his cranial drilling, and during an operation Henry worries about him running out of battery power!

In the final operating theatre scene with Marian’s brain open to the surgeons, we witness a wonderful interaction between doctor and patient. The whole story is suffused with humanity and redemption that make it truly inspirational and hope-giving. Henry’s visit to the mother of a deceased girl who died under his hands is a tender counterpoint.

A beautifully-told, unembellished, real story, it should not be missed. By the way, Nick Cave co-wrote the film’s soundtrack.

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