LONDON — The death of director Anthony Minghella Tuesday stunned colleagues in the film and TV world. It also left some major question marks over several high-profile film and TV projects and came as a blow to the Weinstein company, for whom Minghella was a major supplier and also a sort of artist-in-residence.
Minghella, whose lyrical, cerebral style won him acclaim for films such as “The English Patient,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain,” died Tuesday at 54.
A spokesman said he suffered a fatal hemorrhage at 5 a.m. local time at London’s Charing Cross Hospital, where he had undergone an operation last week on a growth on his tonsil.
Minghella most recently directed the BBC/WeinsteinCo./HBO telepic “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” based on Alexander McCall Smith’s novel set in Botswana, which is due to premiere March 23 on BBC1. He co-wrote and co-exec produced the adaptation with Richard Curtis.
“I am shocked and heartbroken that we have lost Anthony,” longtime friend and collaborator Harvey Weinstein said in a statement. “He was my mentor, my partner and, most of all, my brother. The grace, joy and tenderness he brought to his films were symbolic of his life and the many people he touched. There are many personal and professional moments we have shared together and I will treasure them for the rest of my life. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beautiful family at this difficult moment.”
BBC Films had planned to preem the feature-length pilot episode of “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” in London Tuesday evening. After careful consideration, it was decided not to cancel the screening, although the mood surrounding the event had understandably darkened.
“The screening was supposed to be a big celebration, but instead it’s become a very sad event,” said one BBC Film exec.
The fate of the 13 one-hour episodes of “Detective Agency” ordered this month by HBO, remains unclear. Lensing was due to begin in summer, with HBO obtaining U.S. and Canadian TV and homevid rights, and the BBC taking U.K. television distribution.
TWC, which controls all other international territories, had been planning to sell the project at MIPTV in April. Minghella was set only to produce the skein, leaving BBC execs hopeful that it can proceed.
For TWC overall, Minghella’s passing is a serious blow. Mirage Enterprises, the company Minghella ran with Sydney Pollack (who is gravely ill), reupped its overall first-look deal at TWC a year ago and was a key supplier, with several pics and TV series in the pipeline.
Pollack gave this statement: Anthony was a realistic romanticist. 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 cliche that you don’t know anyone well until you’ve lived through wars with them, is an absolute truth. Sometimes making films is a form of war. Having weathered several with Anthony, I will tell you that his dignity never softened, his artistry never suffered, and his mind remained as sharp and clear in wartime as it was in quietude.”
Minghella was attached to write TWC’s “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax.” His producing credits on Mirage pics include such titles as “The Interpreter,” “Catch a Fire” and upcoming TWC release “The Reader.”
He was among a dozen writers contributing shorts to omnibus pic “New York, I Love You,” due out later this year. Producer Marina Grasic said the film, whose segments are directed and written by the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Mira Nair and Brett Ratner, would be dedicated to Minghella.
While “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” repped a return to the TV work that shaped Minghella’s early directing career, his loss resonated most in the film community, spread equally among the three hubs of his career: New York, L.A. and London.
“He was incredibly generous, but also surefooted because he knew the material so intimately,” said Miramax prexy Daniel Battsek, who handled the overseas rollouts of “English Patient,” “Ripley” and “Cold Mountain” while at Buena Vista Intl. “No matter how many moving parts there were, he was the calm center.”
That sentiment was echoed often on Tuesday.
“He is by far the sweetest and kindest person I have ever encountered in show business,” said Tony Angelotti, an Oscar consultant who worked closely with Minghella on several campaigns. “He had a flair for storytelling, loved radio, loved movies. And I really cherished his sense of humor.”
Angelotti said, “He would look at you with energy in his eyes. There are people who do that, but his was a calm energy, and it just made you feel at ease.”
Minghella’s last movie as a director was “Breaking and Entering” in 2006, also for TWC. More recently, he left a mark on two Oscar nominees for best picture in 2007, exec producing “Michael Clayton” and making his first acting appearance as the interviewer in the final scene of “Atonement” opposite Vanessa Redgrave.
He recently stepped down as chairman of the British Film Institute after serving four years in the role. “He was an inspirational and charismatic figure who truly understood the power of film to change our understanding of the world we live in,” said Amanda Nevill, director of the BFI.
He is survived by his wife Carolyn Choa, a producer, and his two children — Hannah, who was named last week as president of production at Sony Pictures Animations, and Max, an actor who is currently filming “Agora” with Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar.
He is also survived by siblings Dominic, Gioia, Loretta and Edana and parents Eddie and Gloria.
Funeral plans have not been set.
Jude Law, who starred in “Ripley,” “Cold Mountain” and “Breaking and Entering,” 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 onto 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.”
Minghella was born Jan. 6, 1954 on the Isle of Wight, where his Italian parents ran a successful ice cream business. He became a lecturer at Hull U., and started carving a reputation as a writer for the stage, radio and TV. He penned episodes of detective drama “Inspector Morse” and high school series “Grange Hill,” and created the Jim Henson miniseries “The Storyteller: Greek Myths.”
“Truly, Madly, Deeply,” his 1990 directorial debut from his own script, won him a BAFTA for original screenplay. He segued to Warner Bros.’ romantic comedy “Mr. Wonderful,” but truly broke out in 1996 with “The English Patient.”
Minghella won the director Oscar for “The English Patient” in 1997, which also earned him an adapted screenplay nomination. He got another Oscar nomination in 2000 for the screenplay of “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
While Minghella had moved away from theater to focus on film and television, his early work for the stage is still occasionally produced, most recently in a Potomac Theater Project presentation Off Broadway last summer at Atlantic Stage 2 of three short plays collectively titled “Politics of Passion.”
However, his biggest theatrical success was a lavish staging of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” a co-production between New York’s Metropolitan Opera and English National Opera, which bowed at the Met in September 2006 and was screened simultaneously on opening night to crowds in Lincoln Center Plaza and Times Square.
A Hollywood-style, red-carpet preem engineered by recently installed Met Chief Peter Gelb drew stars such as Law and then-mate Sienna Miller, Sean Connery and Liv Tyler. The production returned this season as part of the Met repertory.
Minghella’s status as a public figure in the U.K. was underlined by personal tributes from prime minister Gordon Brown and former PM Tony Blair, whom Minghella directed together in a 2005 election broadcast.
John Woodward, chief executive officer of the U.K. Film Council, commented: “Anthony was at home in many art forms, but ultimately he was one of the great British filmmakers of his generation.
“He sweated over every frame of every film, but his influence went beyond the films, and he was a top ambassador for the industry both in the U.K. and internationally.
“As chairman, he laid the foundations for the renaissance of the BFI, and he was a brilliant member of the U.K. Film Council board for five years. Even more importantly he was 100% genuine, and he believed in the goodness of others.”
(David Rooney in New York contributed to this report.)