There are many elements that unite all humanity, but the grimmest and most sobering is that, like it or not, we’re all going to die. And for many of us, that end will come slowly and perhaps even painfully.

That’s where Dr. Henry Marsh comes in. The dedicated MD has devoted his life to prolonging the lives of those stricken down by terminal illness and he’s also the subject of the shattering, award-winning film The English Surgeon, opening in Toronto next week for a limited engagement.

Directed by Geoffrey Smith, the film follows the gentle, heroic Dr. Marsh as he travels from his U.K. home with simple medical tools to a woefully impoverished pocket of Ukraine where he offers aid and humanity to people who otherwise have little hope.

And though The English Surgeon is most assuredly documenting a harsh reality, it also boasts scene after scene of richly detailed imagery and is laced with liberal doses of mood and tone that make it nothing short of cinematic.

“That quality is intentional,” admits Smith of his critically acclaimed picture.

“The subject here is life and death, the cornerstone of serious drama and it was always designed to be shot, structured and edited as such.

“It’s not just about Henry’s moral struggle to do good things in the world, but about the relationship between doctor and patient, perhaps the last sacred relationship.”

Further enriching the emotional impact of The English Surgeon is the film’s understated achingly mournful score, composed and performed by iconic Australian pop poet Nick Cave and his long time collaborator Warren Ellis.

Smith believes the good doctor approves of his inspiring screen rendered exploits.

“He’s very fond of it, I think,” says the director. “Henry’s my voice that I use in the film to ask these kind of moral questions about humanity. He is a surgeon, but also an artist, in every respect, and I think the film proves this.”

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