British film-maker Anthony Minghella, who won an Academy Award for his direction of The English Patient, died Tuesday morning in London.
Minghella, 54, died of complications from surgery to treat tonsil cancer, according to Leslee Dart, his publicist.
Minghella’s films, which also included Breaking and Entering, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain, used a careful eye for cultural and historical detail to explore how the dynamics of class pushed people into roles and behaviour not of their choosing.
His gifts for building lush, fully realized worlds within worlds also found expression in opera. Minghella directed an acclaimed staging of Madam Butterfly in 2005 for the English National Opera in London, and he was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in New York to direct and write the libretto for a new work by the composer Osvaldo Golijov that was scheduled for the 2011-2012 season.
Versatile talent: Anthony Minghella on the set of The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana in last August. His gifts for building lush, fully realized worlds within worlds also found expression in opera.
Minghella recently completed work on The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, an adaptation of the Alexander McCall Smith novel that was filmed in Botswana for HBO and the British Broadcasting Corp. as the pilot of a series.
Minghella first began working in theatre, both as a writer and a director. Samuel Beckett was a particular fascination; Minghella organized a star-studded tribute to Beckett in 2006.
After his movie directing debut in Truly, Madly, Deeply, a made-for-television production that was released theatrically in 1990, Minghella went on to adapt a number of novels for a series of well-reviewed films. In addition to the directing Oscar for The English Patient, Minghella also received an adapted-screenplay nomination for the film; his adapted screenplay for The Talented Mr. Ripley was nominated as well.
In 2000, Minghella joined a fellow director, Sydney Pollack, to form Mirage, an independent production company, which agreed on a three-year deal with the Weinstein company this month.
Anthony Minghella was born in 1954, and grew up on the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England, where his parents, immigrants from southern Italy, ran an ice cream factory.
An outsider even in his native land, Minghella took on large historical issues in his work, like the human consequences of epic warfare in Cold Mountain, about a soldier’s journey across an American landscape battered by the Civil War. Closer to home, his film Breaking and Entering examined the interlocking lives of thieves and their victims in contemporary London, a place where he believes immigrants are less assimilated than tolerated.
“But while we share the geographical space, we don’t share much else,” he said to The New York Times in 2006 in talking about the film, based on his first original screenplay since Truly, Madly, Deeply.
Minghella’s concern with seeing beyond roles assigned by hierarchy or education extended to the work itself.
“Anthony was the opposite of the prissy, hysterical director,” said Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera.” He was calm and intelligent and persuasive, whether he was talking to a board member or a member of the stage crew.”
©/2008 The New York Times