The Talented Mr. Minghella

Anthony Minghella knew a lot about grief and loss. His first movie, "Truly, Madly, Deeply," a movie cherished by the few who saw it, is about a widowed musician (Juliet Stevenson) who's visited by her late cellist husband (Alan Rickman). Funny and incredibly moving, it showed off Minghella's rare sensitivity and intelligence as a writer and his gift for coaxing remarkable performances from his casts, a talent he would demonstrate again in his Oscar-winning "The English Patient," in the daring "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and in his Civil War epic "Cold Mountain."

But with the news of his untimely death, it's that haunting first film that springs to mind, for it understands so well the acute pain of mourning. I first met the man at a dinner in Los Angeles with director Randa Haines, whose movie "The Doctor" he had rewritten. His gentle, soft-spoken presence created an aura of intimacy that you wanted to share; it was easy to see why actors were drawn into his collaborative embrace. Yet under the warmth was the steel will necessary to marshal his epic, darkly romantic visions to the screen. A gifted playwright and an acclaimed opera director, Minghella considered himself a writer first, one lucky enough, he once said, to "be able to direct the films that I wrote." But not, it turned out, lucky enough to have the long and splendid career he deserved.

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