Doctoring the patient

Director Anthony Minghella's career has gone ballistic With The English Patient. Words: Anwar Brett

THE IMAGE OF the charismatic loner has exercised the imagin- ation of filmmakers for nearly 100 years an impassively attractive character who is aloof and alone. This description suits Count Laszlo de Almasy in Anthony Minghella‘s The ling/1'in Patient. a perennial outsider in spite of his clipped English vowels.

Given Minghella‘s own back- ground born of ice-cream- making ltalian parents on the Isle ofWight it‘s tempting to compare Almasy's sense of otherness with any deep-rooted feelings the director might have had while growing up.

‘When I was at school in the early 60s. l was very alert to the fact that there was still a vestigial belligerence from World War ll. he says. I was aware of having a name that wasn‘t like anybody else‘s. Sometimes that was an advantage and sometimes it was not.’

Minghella first came to notice as a theatre director. but then had a

surprise hit with the low-key romantic comedy Truly. Madly. Deeply. His first excursion to America. for the Annabella Sciorra-Matt Dillon feature Mr Wonderful. had little impact. but now his name is on the tongues of l'lollywood's movers and shakers. thanks to The lz’iiglisli Patient’s impressive haul of twelve Oscar nominations. His own. in the categories of Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. place him as the front-runner in each case.

In the film. Minghella has woven an enduring love story through happiness. tragedy and two different time-frames at either end of World War ll. It‘s an epic film of the kind they're not really supposed to make any more. and the director's achievement is all the

more impressive for having adapted Michael Ondaatje’s

Booker Prize-winning novel. long thought unfilmable. Some might think that Ralph



Patient is its own reward: Anthony Minghella (left) and producer Saul Zantz on the set

Fiennes’s enigmatic image in the media is a parallel for Almasy. but Minghella suggests this may be a combination of natural reserve and a sensible suspicion of the press. ‘l‘vc been with him when there have been journalists around. and he is so guarded. He‘s also guarded when he’s acting. though. because he doesn’t want to be betrayed by the film. he doesn’t want to be cheated. he wants to be truthful for the camera. It’s almost like his radar is constantly looking for some inaccuracy. and I’m all for that.’

Minghella himself is a complete contrast to the cold Almasy.

Roundly affable. he encouraged a spirit of collaboration on the film. and he insisted that Ondaatje remained on the set throughout the shoot. That would be heresy to most directors.

‘If you‘re the writer and director on a film. that makes your voice very loud in any mix.‘ he comments. ‘So there‘s no harm in being reminded of the fact that you can go terribly far astray. It also suggests an enormous lack of ego on Michael’s part. because I took huge liberties with his book and be blessed every venture 1 went out on. If there’s one person I want to like this film. it‘s bim.‘

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7—20 Mar 1997 THE LIST 9