The English Surgeon (2007)

2 Mar


Format: DVD

Classification: M

Genre: Documentary, Medical, Philanthropic, Ethical

Duration: 94mins

Director: Geoffrey Smith

Cast: Henry Marsh, Igor Petrovich

Producer: Rachel Wexler

Music: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

Distributor: Madman

Language: English

Country: Britain/Ukraine


An observational documentary that subtly includes you in the joint project of an English and a Ukraine surgeon to better the health of Kiev residents. Touching upon ethical, moral and altruistic themes this story captures both the most sincere, poignant moments and the mechanical procedure that these two gentlemen tackle on a day to day basis. Heightened with a restrained score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis this doco is sure to move you to your very core, emphasizing the importance of community; “What are we if we do not try to help others? We are nothing, nothing at all.”


Guided to a surgical procedure by parallel story lines following an English surgeon (Dr Henry Marsh), his Kiev counterpart and intermediary (Dr. Igor Petrovich) and their patient (Marian) who suffers from a neurological tumour, the context of the situation and relationship between all involved is slowly revealed to us from a fly-on-the-wall perspective.

Fifteen years ago: Horrendously under resourced at his hospital in Kiev (Kyev), Igor decides to rebel against the archaic surgical conditions he is faced with by teaming up with visiting English surgeon Marsh. Offering patients with what is considered by Ukrainian estimations inoperable conditions a second chance at life. “It is our moral duty.”

In a culture still steeped in it’s religious ideologies and superstitions Marsh is looked upon by the locals as a visiting holy man. A miracle maker. And that he is. A man not without his faults in character he strives to give the less fortunate another lease on life. Throughout the documentary he delivers some great lines of dialogue that thrust the viewer into the world he lives in:

“Brain surgery is like playing Russian roulette with two guns. One gun is for treatment whilst the other to let the patient be.”

“Hospitals are like prisons, where a small number of people are doing nasty things to a large number of people.”

How right he is. On the one hand captivated by the diagnostic conversations and boggling decision making process to operate or not to operate i was horrified by the actual surgery itself. This film is not for the faint of heart. Drills, saws nd even cabling is used to hack and crack into the skull during the surgical scenes. However, do not let this deter you from viewing this exceptional documentary. For this is no ER or Greys Anatomy. This is the REAL THING. Real decisions about whether to risk life or death are made what seems over a dozen times a day with local patients turning up in the droves.

The score is another highlight for this doco. Emitting a lovely quaint tone that suits each of the characters down to a T. I was not surprised to find that virtuosos Nick Cave and Warren Ellis were at the helm of the score. They make me proud to be an Australian. Whenever i come across Warren Ellis’ name it is as if a bolt of lightning takes me back to the pulsing crowd at Meridith as he induced an electrical storm with the power of his violin bow. What an amazing set that was.

I hadn’t heard of this documentary until i happened across it at the good ol’ library loans section. It is great that Madman are compelled to bring such moving narratives into the country. Good on ’em.


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