Anthony Minghella; Director Won Oscar For 'English Patient'

Anthony Minghella, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker of "The English Patient" and "Cold Mountain," has died at the age of 54.
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anthony Minghella, a multi-talented British dramatist, screenwriter and film director who won an Academy Award for directing the "The English Patient," died March 19 at Charing Cross Hospital in London. He had a brain hemorrhage after undergoing routine surgery last week for a growth in his neck. He was 54.

Mr. Minghella began his career as a playwright and screenwriter for British stage and television before embarking on his first film, the cult classic "Truly, Madly, Deeply," in 1991. He had his greatest success with "The English Patient," which was nominated for 12 Academy Awards in 1997 and won nine, including best picture. Besides his Oscar for best director, Mr. Minghella was nominated for best adapted screenplay.

Among his other films were the dark psychological thriller "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999), the Civil War epic "Cold Mountain" (2003) and "Breaking and Entering" (2007), a modern morality tale set in London. He was an executive producer of "Michael Clayton," a nominee for best picture at this year's Academy Awards.

Shortly before his death, Mr. Minghella had finished directing an adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's best-selling "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," filmed in Botswana. It is scheduled to premiere on British television this week.

Mr. Minghella wrote original screenplays for "Truly, Madly, Deeply" and "Breaking and Entering," but he was better known for reimagining other writers' works for the screen. He spent several years adapting Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient," which contained so many shifting scenes and dense layers of language that it was deemed impossible to film.

But Mr. Minghella's version, starring Ralph Fiennes as a mysterious agent in World War II who was severely burned in a plane crash, was a triumph of intimate storytelling and stunning visual scenemaking. In the film, Fiennes reveals snippets of his past while he is being cared for by a nurse played by Juliette Binoche, who won an Oscar for her role.

"I knew from the beginning there was no linear or conventional way to tell the story," Mr. Minghella told The Washington Post in 1996. The novel's "lyrical and anti-narrative" qualities led him to focus on "a series of striking images."

Washington Post critic Rita Kempley described "The English Patient" as "completely intoxicating" and continued: "Sin, alas, has never been so alluring, nor sinners . . . so achingly gorgeous. That's the miracle of writer-director Anthony Minghella's artistry. We are taken out of ourselves."

Mr. Minghella was born Jan. 6, 1954, on the Isle of Wight and considered himself a cultural outsider. His father, a Sicilian immigrant, ran a cafe and later became an ice cream-maker.

In an interview with The Post last year, Mr. Minghella recalled his mixed feelings about attending a posh party in his home town with film stars and aristocrats.

"All I could think," he said, "is that the last time I was there, I had to go in through the tradesman's entrance, because I was selling ice cream."

As a boy, he befriended the projectionist at a local movie theater. Later, he studied theatrical history at England's University of Hull, where he taught for several years. He began writing for the British stage, and in 1984, London drama critics called him the country's "most promising playwright." His 1986 play "Made in Bangkok," about sex tourism, was named best new play.

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