The Talented Mr. Minghella
This summer I've spent a fair amount of time gazing gloomily at the mountain of pony manure that comprises the movies, and feeling like laying down my shovel. Then I watch a DVD interview with the British writer-director Anthony Minghella, and suddenly I'm digging again.
The interview is on the DVD of Minghella's directorial debut, Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991), a low-bucks, high-bang portrait of a woman grieving for her husband after his sudden death from a sore throat. If that sounds a bit odd, the film is odder still, ranging from twee comedy (don't you just love foreign words?) to Sophoclean tragedy, all effortlessly brought off by the superb Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman (as the grief-summoned ghost of the husband).
A successful playwright and screenwriter, Minghella turned down a chance to start directing with an episode of Inspector Morse (where he was a regular writer), because as he says, if he was going to screw up, he preferred to do so on an obscure film rather than on the top-rated TV show in Britian.
He didn't screw up: Truly won several prizes and launched his directing career, which now includes The Talented Mr. Ripley, The English Patient, and Cold Mountain.
All three are literary adaptations, and it's interesting to read Minghella's comments about the process in a recent online interview.
In that interview he talks about two of the authors, Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) and Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain), as though they were Tolstoy and Turgenev. He is being too modest. Both films are a bit on the precision-tooled, precious side, like the novels. But they are also livelier and more robust than the novels, and surely Minghella knows that.
Which way will Minghella jump now? Into the manure, it would seem from his recent venture into executive producing: the vacuous dud The Interpreter. Personally, I wish he'd go back to writing original screeplays for ponies like Juliet Stevenson.