Minghella, genius of the screen, dies at 54

Anthony Minghella, the film director whose work included The English Patient and Truly, Madly, Deeply, died yesterday, aged 54, after suffering a haemorrhage at Charing Cross Hospital in London following an operation last week for a growth in his neck.

Minghella, who was married to the choreographer Carolyn Choa, with whom he had two children, Max and Hannah, was among Britain's foremost talents. The English Patient won nine Oscars in 1997. He stepped down this month as chairman of the British Film Institute after serving for five years.

Ralph Fiennes, star of The English Patient, said he was "devastated and shocked", adding: "Anthony possessed a sensitivity and alertness to the actor's process that very few directors have. He directed most of The English Patient with an ankle in plaster, never losing his gentle humour and precision."

Jude Law, who worked with Minghella on The Talented Mr Ripley, Cold Mountain and Breaking and Entering, said: "I am deeply shocked and saddened. I had worked with Anthony on three films, more than with any other director, but had come to value him more as a friend than as a colleague. He made work feel fun. He was a sweet, warm, bright and funny man who was interested in everything from football to opera, films, music, literature, people and, most of all, his family whom he adored."

Gordon Brown, whom Minghella directed alongside Tony Blair in a 2005 Labour Party election broadcast, said: "He was one of Britain's greatest creative talents, one of our finest screenwriters and directors, a great champion of the British film industry, and an expert on literature and opera." Mr Blair described him as "a wonderful human being, creative and brilliant, but still humble, gentle and a joy to be with".

Lord Puttnam said his death was a "shattering blow to the film industry: "Not only was he a fine writer... and made the transfer into becoming a really excellent director, he was also a really beautiful man... Most importantly of all for me, he was one of the few film-makers who really stepped up to the responsibility; he worked his guts out at the BFI."

Minghella had recently turned to opera, directing the English National Opera's 2005 production of Madam Butterfly. he often worked with his wife on films and she choreographed Madam Butterfly. The ENO's artistic director, John Berry, said: "He was a great friend and a great colleague and a really brilliant man who was only capable of creating beautiful work. The international artistic community as a whole is going to miss him. He came into opera quite late in his career but had a huge success."

Minghella's most recent work, a TV adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's novel The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, is to air on Sunday. Jane Tranter, the BBC controller of fiction, said: "The work he had completed on The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency was quintessentially Anthony, epic but personal, thought-provoking but entertaining, edgy but with a strong moral heart and warmth. He was one of the UK's finest writing and directing talents and he will be sorely missed."

Born to Italian parents, Minghella grew up as one of five children above his family's ice-cream shop on the Isle of Wight. The family still run a chain of shops on the island. He began his career writing for theatre, radio and television, after being encouraged to write by the playwright Alan Plater, whom he met while studying English and drama at Hull University, where he also worked as a lecturer.

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