March 18, 2008 / 1:50 PM / in 10 years

Film director Anthony Minghella dies

<p>Oscar-winning British film director Anthony Minghella, recipient of the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Artistic Excellence in Directing, attends the 2006 BAFTA/LA Cunard Britannia Awards held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles in this November 2, 2006 file photo.REUTERS/Phil McCarten/Files</p>

LONDON (Reuters) - British filmmaker Anthony Minghella, who won the Oscar as best director for his work on “The English Patient,” died in a London hospital on Tuesday after a short illness, his agent said. He was 54.

Minghella died from complications following surgery last week for cancer of the tonsils and neck, agent Leslee Dart said.

“The surgery had gone well and they were very optimistic,” she said. “But he developed a hemorrhage last night and they were not able to stop it.”

The son of an ice-cream maker, Minghella was married to Carolyn Choa and had two grown-up children, Max and Hannah.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was a close friend of the director, said he was “deeply saddened.”

“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,” Brown said. “He will be deeply missed.”

Hailed as a master filmmaker and admired by actors as well as fellow directors, Minghella began his cinematographic career as a television soap opera script editor in the 1980s.

Gradually working his way up the television hierarchy, Minghella turned his hand to writing, winning in 1984 the London Theater Critics award as most promising playwright for “A Little Like Drowning.”

Other awards followed, and in 1991 he made his breakthrough with “Truly, Madly Deeply,” a film he wrote and directed for the BBC which crossed over into cinema and won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for best screenplay.

“He was a great guy, a very, very nice man, a brilliant writer, excellent director,” film producer David Puttnam told BBC television, calling Minghella’s death was a “shattering blow.”

“The English Patient,” a wartime romance starring Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche, earned Minghella an Academy Award as best director in 1997 and an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay.

The film won nine Oscars in all, including the award for best picture and a best supporting actress prize for Binoche.

Three years later, Minghella picked up a second Oscar nomination for his adapted screenplay to the high-society thriller “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” which he also directed.

He also wrote and directed the 2003 U.S. Civil War-era drama “Cold Mountain.”

“Anthony was a realistic romanticist,” said friend and colleague Sydney Pollack. “A kind of poet, disciplined by reality, an academic by training, a musician by nature, a compulsive reader by habit, and to most observers, a sunny soul who exuded a gentleness that should never have been mistaken for lack of tenacity and resolve.”

“The English Patient,” based on author Michael Ondaatje’s novel, was an unexpected global hit.

In an interview with Reuters after its release, Minghella said he had struggled to raise the money to make the film, which was nominated in 12 Oscar categories.

”It was a very hard job to get someone to give us the money for this,“ he said. ”It was a very unpromising document: a European film about a man haunted from his wartime past, good actors but no stars and a director who had little experience.

“It was understandable that people (in Hollywood) had no faith in the film. But they were all completely wrong.”

Born to Italian parents and brought up on the Isle of Wight, he studied drama at the University of Hull in northeast England.

In 2003, he was appointed the head of the British Film Institute, the body created to make film more accessible to the public. Two years later, he staged his first opera in London.

The director and writer had been filming an adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s novel, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.” It was due to be shown on the BBC on Easter Sunday and on the HBO network in the United States.

(Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin and Jeremy Lovell)

Reuters/Nielsen

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