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Anthony Minghella: Truly, madly, deeply missed

  • Story Highlights
  • Minghella won numerous awards including nine Oscars for The English Patient
  • He had just wrapped HBO's "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective's Agency"
  • He first gained recognition in 1991 with his debut "Truly, Madly, Deeply"
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By Stephanie Busari
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- With Hollywood still reeling from the untimely death of actor Heath Ledger, the news of director Anthony Minghella's passing after surgery, has sent the film industry into a tailspin.

Anthony Minghella died Wednesday from a haemorrhage

Anthony Minghella died Wednesday from a haemorrhage after surgery

Minghella was not only a wildly successful director, garnering numerous awards and accolades, but was a tireless champion of filmmaking, and particularly the British film industry.

He had a passion for writing and considered it essential in his role as a director.

Minghella said in recent interviews that he considered himself a writer who had the good fortune to be able to direct his own work.

He had been preparing for his installment of the anthology movie project "New York, I Love You" and had also just wrapped TV's "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective's Agency," which will air on the BBC in the U.K. and HBO in the U.S.

He first gained international recognition in 1991 with his tour de force debut "Truly, Madly, Deeply."

"Truly" was a tear-jerking drama about a bereaved woman (Juliet Stevenson), who literally wills her dead lover (Alan Rickman) back to life. The film focuses on her relationship with his ghost and is dealt with in a compassionate and sometimes humorous, manner that stopped it descending into mawkish sentimentalism.

The film's stunning success worldwide saw Minghella lured to Hollywood and in 1993, he agreed to direct a romantic comedy "Mr. Wonderful," starring Matt Dillon and Annabella Sciorra. Dillon schemes to get out of paying alimony to his ex-wife (Sciorra) by finding her a new husband.

Though it proved popular with moviegoers, critics were less than awed, with Roger Ebert describing it as "a film for the movie going-impaired."

Tellingly, it was the only film Minghella directed where he did not write or co-write the screenplay.

A chastened Minghella took the experience to heart and sequestered himself away writing a screenplay from Michael Ondaatje's 1992 Booker Prize-winning novel, "The English Patient." It would take him eighteen lonely months.

The result was an achingly romantic, poetic and beautifully photographed epic, far removed from the fluffy predictability of "Mr. Wonderful."

Starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliet Binoche, "The English Patient" was Minghella's most commercially successful and decorated film: he won an astonishing nine Oscars including the Academy Award for best director in 1996.

But it was a film that may not have seen the light of day as Minghella revealed in an interview after its release.

"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 war-time 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 wrong."

"The English Patient" catapulted him into the front rank of global film-making. Its follow-up, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," in 1999, showed his ability to manipulate cinematic style as well as to bring out the best in A-list acting talent including Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Minghella's signature actor Jude Law, who has appeared in three of the director's films.

Reviewer Joe Baltake of the Sacramento Bee wrote: "Anthony Minghella's terrific "The Talented Mr. Ripley" offers us the guilty seasonal pleasure of wallowing in evil in its most luxuriant form."

By now, Minghella was commanding bigger and bigger budgets for his movies. In 2003, "Cold Mountain," starring Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger and Jude Law, was conceived on an epic scale, costing $83m (£48m), more than double the investment of his previous film.

With its sweeping drama and tragic romance, it was perfect Minghella fodder. Yet, the Civil War movie received mixed reviews, although it gained an Oscar nomination for Jude Law and a best supporting actress award for Zellweger.

After his customary three year hiatus between films, Minghella returned to his British roots with 2006's "Breaking and Entering," starring Law (again) as an eco-friendly London architect who has an affair with a Bosnian woman whose son broke into his office.

The complicated emotional landscape charted is pure Minghella but "Breaking and Entering" never quite achieved the box office success some felt it deserved.

Despite his growing reputation as a filmmaker, Minghella faced obstacles from cash-conscious studio bosses. Three of his major films started out as Hollywood projects, yet all ended up being financed by Miramax, then headed by the Weinstein brothers.

In one of his last interviews, Minghella explained his sometimes fraught relationships with Hollywood to The Times newspaper: "I've never set out to make a film with Miramax. 'The English Patient' was with Fox, 'Ripley' was with Paramount and 'Cold Mountain' was with MGM.

"Miramax was the one company, when these others abandoned the projects, that said: We'll do it. No studio in Hollywood wanted 'Cold Mountain.' None. No one wanted 'Ripley,' no one wanted 'The English Patient.' That tells you there isn't really an appetite for ambitious movie-making out there.

"Miramax have been one of the very few companies prepared to gamble on this kind of film. Without them I would have no career."

It is clear that Minghella's death leaves a gaping hole in the global film industry.

On learning of his death, a devastated Nicole Kidman said: "There's really no way to put this. Anthony was a gift to the world."

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

Many also agree that his best work was yet to come.

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