The talented Mr Minghella

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The Independent Culture

The film debut of director and screenplay writer Anthony Minghella - who won the best director Oscar for The English Patient in 1997 - could not have been better.

In 1991, former Hull University lecturer Minghella wrote and directed the tear-jerker Truly, Madly, Deeply, starring Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson.

The slightly quirky love/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 his second film, Mr Wonderful, with Matt Dillon and Mary Louise Parker.

He went on to direct hugely successful films such as The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and Cold Mountain (2003), as well as recently completing the The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Born of Italian parents at Ryde, Isle of Wight, in 1954, Minghella did not go into the family ice cream-making business. Instead he pursued an academic career.

Like other successful modern writers, he cut his teeth on the early episodes of the BBC1 children's programme Grange Hill.

He also regularly contributed to the ITV Inspector Morse series and won the 1984 London Theatre Critics' most promising playwright title.

While studying English and Drama at Hull university, Minghella met the TV playwright Alan Plater who encouraged him to write.

He began his writing career in the theatre and radio.

His 1981 play Whale Music was a success, and was followed up by a West End transfer of Made in Bangkok, a farce about the sex trade in Thailand.

Made in Bangkok won the London Theatre Critics Award for Best New Play in 1986.

Cigarettes and Chocolate won a Giles Cooper Award for best radio play in 1987.

As well as Inspector Morse, Minghella's TV work included nine episodes of the series The Storyteller for Jim Henson.

In 1997, The English Patient won nine Academy Awards, including best director for Minghella.

The film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, is today remembered as a classic.

The movie, telling the story of an intense love affair, was based on Michael Ondaatje's celebrated novel, set at the close of the Second World War.

Mr Wonderful (1993), Minghella's first Hollywood production and his follow-up to Truly, Madly, Deeply, had been a disappointing experience for its director.

After making the film, starring Matt Dillon, Minghella had become disillusioned with major-studio filmmaking.

In 2003, Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger and Jude Law, was nominated for seven Oscars, and won a best supporting actress gong for Zellweger.

In 2005, Minghella made his opera debut directing an acclaimed production of Madame Butterfly for the English National Opera.

The production, choreographed by Minghella's wife Carolyn Choa, returned to the ENO earlier this year.

In 2006, Minghella directed and wrote the film Breaking and Entering, also starring Law.

It was his first self-penned script since Truly Madly Deeply, and was set in modern London "within the two pages on the A-Z where I live and work", Minghella said.

"The idea behind Breaking and Entering was to return to what I set out to do in the first place, which was make small films as a writer director that I'd created, rather than adapted from novels," he said at the time.

Minghella was also directing The Ninth Life of Louis Drax (2008), and a segment of New York, I Love You, an anthology film joining several love stories with different directors.

Minghella's last completed work was an adaptation of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, based on the book by Alexander McCall Smith.

The film will be broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday.

Minghella directed the drama for the BBC and HBO, and adapted the book with Richard Curtis.

He recently announced he was stepping down as head of the British Film Institute (BFI) after five years to focus on his work behind the camera.

He recently said: "I had never thought of myself as a director and found out that I was not.

"I am a writer who was able to direct the films that I write.

"It is as if I have been working in a tunnel and I've no idea what the reaction is going to be.

"It is a naked thing to admit, but I feel very strongly that I want people to appreciate that I am not just a flash in the pan."

Minghella was awarded a CBE in 2001 and had two children with Choa, son Max and daughter Hannah.

At the Oscars, The English Patient's nine awards eclipsed the achievement of Lord Attenborough's epic 1982 film Gandhi which scooped eight Oscars.

Minghella's victory owed as much to persistence and stubbornness as it did to his powerful creative vision.

He refused to bow to several Hollywood studios who wanted US stars in the lead roles.

The £20 million film nearly did not get made when its financing collapsed.

Producer Saul Zaentz saved the movie with US money and Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes stayed in the picture.