Jonathan Romney: Noises Off

Anthony Minghella shot for the stars but still kept his feet on the ground

Share
Related Topics

In Britain, we're used to seeing our directing talents fly the coop for Hollywood. But Anthony Minghella – who died from a haemorrhage last week, aged 54 – managed to have the best of both worlds. He was a cosmopolitan film-maker, an Oscar-winning writer and director of films such as The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, which combined the complex values of European art cinema with the executive panache of the Hollywood epic. At the same time, he remained a very visible, and approachable, part of the British film industry; while success made him a formidable transatlantic player, he was never seen as a creature of either Los Angeles or New York.

As a director, he was universally respected, even if critics were sometimes wary of his work. It was possible to admire his ambition and integrity, while sometimes wishing the films were a little less monumental. His cameo appearance last year in Joe Wright's Atonement was significant: it suggested that Minghella had become a godfather to a school of film-making that was literate, grand-scale, rather bombastic, but tending somewhat to middle-brow prestige. Yet conservatism was not a charge that could be levelled at The English Patient (1996): it will endure as one of the more dream-like, aesthetically idiosyncratic films ever to score an upmarket hit worldwide.

Minghella's last big film, Cold Mountain (2003), was more academic, yet found room for introspective moodiness within its epic scale. But The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) is a special achievement: a provocative re-reading of an already legendary anti-hero, the film succeeds both as a study in criminal psychopathology and as an elegant evocation of a certain cosmopolitan milieu of the American and European 1950s.

Minghella was nothing if not stylish. I once did a long interview with him on stage at Goldsmiths College, south London: he was expansive, affable, open to dialogue with the audience. As chairman of the British Film Institute (BFI), he was a charismatic fixture on London Film Festival opening nights. His cameo as a TV arts show host in Atonement made perfect sense: he could easily have had a Melvyn Bragg-style sideline as an erudite arts pundit, but when interviewing others on stage, his mischief and ebullience could sometimes run away with him.

Minghella was one of the handful of British directors who could talk of their love of world cinema and sound plausible. At the BFI, his urbane style made him a persuasive figurehead.

He wasn't a man to forget his roots: he frequently paid tribute to his Isle of Wight origins. He also stayed true to London, the city that kick-started his directing career with the 1990 supernatural romance Truly Madly Deeply. That film attempted to deal with big emotions – love, grief and joie de vivre – in a way that felt bracingly un-English.

After three globe-trotting productions, Minghella returned to London in his last cinema feature, Breaking and Entering (2006), inspired by the changing geography and economy of King's Cross. Though not entirely convincing, it showed Minghella with his sleeves rolled up: working with a smaller budget and showing a curiosity for the everyday. As executive producer on last year's US thriller Michael Clayton, he also contributed to the resurgence of intelligence and maturity in Hollywood.

Following The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, screening tonight on BBC1, his next planned feature, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, promised to venture into new, eccentric territory.

Anthony Minghella remains an imposing model for the commercially minded European director: he proved you could aim for the skies, and still keep your feet on the ground.

Do you have an issue you wish to raise in Noises Off? Contact us at: sundayletters@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat