Oscar-winner Minghella dies after cancer op

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The Independent Culture

Oscar-winning film director Anthony Minghella died today at the age of 54. He suffered complications following surgery last week for cancer of the tonsils and neck, his agent said.

"The surgery had gone well and they were very optimistic," said Leslee Dart . "But he developed a haemorrhage last night and they were not able to stop it."

The British director is best known for The English Patient, Truly Madly Deeply and Cold Mountain. And he had been due to premier his latest film - the African detective yarn The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - on British TV this week.

One of five children, Minghella grew up above the family's ice cream shop on the Isle of Wight, where the family still live and run a successful chain of shops.

He is survived by his wife, Carolyn Choa, his actor son, Max, and his daughter Hannah - who works in the film industry.

Jude Law, who worked with Minghella on The Talented Mr Ripley, Cold Mountain and Breaking And Entering, said he would miss the director "hugely".

He said: "I am deeply shocked and saddened to hear of Anthony's untimely death.

"I worked with him on three films, more than with any other director, but had come to value him more as a friend than as a colleague.

"He was a brilliantly talented writer and director who wrote dialogue that was a joy to speak and then put it on to the screen in a way that always looked effortless.

"He made work feel like 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 and to whom I send my thoughts and love. I shall miss him hugely."

Fellow film director Lord Puttnam said the death was a "shattering blow" to the industry.

"I am shattered. He was a very important person in the film community because not only was he a fine, fine writer ... and made the transfer into becoming a really excellent director, he was also a really beautiful man.

"I just spoke to Alan Parker and it was the line Alan used: he was a beautiful man; he was a lot of fun to be with; he was thoughtful and intelligent.

"Most importantly of all for me, he was one of the few filmmakers who really stepped up to the responsibility - he worked his guts out at the BFI (British Film Institute) to be an effective chair and was an extremely effective chair with the result being that the BFI to an extent is rising from the ashes as never before.

"He's going to be hugely missed. This is a shattering blow from someone who was a major figure in an important industry and had a lot to go on and contribute."

Lord Puttnam said Minghella had been "a storyteller in the classic British tradition". He compared him with David Lean, saying he was particularly good at inspiring great performances from actresses.

The Sky News north of England correspondent Gerard Tubb, who was taught by Minghella at Hull University in the 1980s, paid tribute: "Anthony Minghella will be remembered as one of the greats of English cinema and theatre, in its wider sense of drama.

"He will be remembered as someone who was a great, someone who put English cinema back on the agenda.

"There was a time when people were saying: 'What's gone wrong? We can't make any decent films. Britain's gone to the dogs as far as cinema is concerned'.

"The English Patient, being directed by Anthony Minghella, proved that we were capable of great things.

"I remember when the seven Oscars were awarded to The English Patient, people were absolutely astonished. Where had this man come from? No one had heard of Anthony Minghella. He came from nowhere.

"He exploded on to the scene but he never went away and he continued to make sure he was trying to put as much back in as he could."

Born of Italian parents, Minghella established his name firmly on the world stage in 1997 when The English Patient stole the headlines at the Oscars.

The film, an adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel, almost swept the board at the ceremony, winning nine awards including Best Picture.

A former lecturer at Hull University, he cut his teeth as a script writer and director in television, working on the BBC children's programme Grange Hill and ITV's Inspector Morse.

But in 1991 he made his debut as a film director with the tear-jerker Truly, Madly, Deeply, starring Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson.

The quirky love and ghost story put him on the map and won him a Bafta and a Writers' Guild of Great Britain trophy, which were followed by several other major awards.

In 1993 he directed Mr Wonderful, with Matt Dillon and Mary Louise Parker.

He followed up the success of The English Patient with The Talented Mr Ripley.

More recently worked in Botswana with fellow Brit Richard Curtis making The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, an adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's best-selling novel. The film is due to be screened on BBC One over Easter.

The former prime minister Tony Blair said Minghella, who directed him in a party election broadcast for Labour, was a "wonderful human being".

"I am really shocked and very sad. Anthony Minghella was a wonderful human being, creative and brilliant, but still humble, gentle and a joy to be with.

"Whatever I did with him, personally or professionally, left me with complete admiration for him, as a character and as an artist of the highest calibre."

His film for the 2005 General Election campaign showed Mr Blair and then Chancellor Gordon Brown chatting informally about the fruits of their joint efforts.

Gordon Brown said: "I was deeply saddened to be told of Anthony's death. My thoughts are with his wife, Carolyn, his children Max and Hannah, and his other family and friends.

"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.

"I counted him as a great friend, as did Sarah and our family. He will be deeply missed, but his contribution to British culture will be remembered for many years to come."

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said: "Anthony Minghella was one of the finest film-makers of his generation.

"His death will be greeted with great sadness, not just in the film world but throughout the country.

"He made a great contribution to British cinema, both through his films, which were rightly recognised on the international stage, and through his leadership of the BFI, in developing a vision for its future.

"His latest film of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which is about to be shown for the first time, is just the latest of a great body of work.

"The cultural and creative life of the country will be diminished and he will be sadly missed."

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