Entertainment & Arts

Antonia Bird, film and TV director, dies aged 54

Antonia Bird
Image caption Antonia Bird worked with Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle on the 1999 film Ravenous

British film and TV director Antonia Bird has died at the age of 54, her agent has said.

She was known for films including 1994's Priest, 1997's Face and 1999's Ravenous, all starring Trainspotting actor Robert Carlyle.

Carlyle, writing on Twitter, said: "Such a sad day today. RIP Antonia Bird. Farewell my beautiful friend."

A statement from her partner said Bird, who had the rare anaplastic thyroid cancer, died peacefully in her sleep.

She had had an operation to remove a large tumour in April, the statement added.

"Despite a determined fight, she had come to terms with the inevitable in the last few weeks and died peacefully in her sleep," it said.

Bird's TV credits included Spooks, Cracker and, more recently, BBC One's The Village, starring John Simm.

She began her career as a theatre director at London's Royal Court before making episodes of TV programmes including EastEnders and Casualty in the mid-1980s.

Image caption Priest starred Linus Roache, left, and Robert Carlyle

She won best single drama TV Baftas for 1993's Safe - a story about homeless teenagers written for BBC Two's Screenplay series - and Care, broadcast in 2000, which dealt with sexual abuse in a children's home.

She also won a Bafta children's award for the 2009 BBC documentary Off By Heart, about a national poetry competition for schoolchildren.

Other awards included best film at the Berlin International Film Festival and the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival - both for Priest.

The film, written by Cracker and The Streets creator, Jimmy McGovern, tells the tale of a Catholic priest's crisis of faith. It received a cinematic release ahead of its transmission on TV as part of the BBC's Screen Two series.

'Amazing films'

Her 1995 Hollywood film Mad Love starred Drew Barrymore and Chris O'Donnell as a teenage couple on the run.

Bird's friend, writer Irvine Welsh, paid tribute on Twitter to "top Bird" who he said made "amazing films".

Her production company 4Way Pictures was formed with Welsh, Carlyle and film-maker Mark Cousins.

In a 1999 interview with the Guardian, Bird said she enjoyed working with British actors because they "arrive on the set and they have an idea of what they want to do in the scene".

"They've thought about it, they come and offer you something as a director," she added.

"And, generally, to get a good performance out of an actor you go with that offer, because that's going to be truthful."

She said that, by contrast, American actors "arrive on set a blank book".

"Now that's fine, that's their tradition, but as a British director it's absolutely terrifying," she said.

'Indelible impact'

John Simm said that 1994's Priest had had a "profound" affect on him as a young actor.

He added: "She was a passionate, attentive and incredibly trusting director.

"Her brilliant work on The Village is a beautiful example of her talent and it's a tragedy that it turned out to be her last.

"Antonia was a unique and wonderful talent and a truly lovely person - she will be greatly missed."

Peter Moffatt, writer of The Village, said he was "completely devastated" by Bird's death.

He said: "Film-making is a collaborative process and it doesn't work if the writer and director don't trust each other. I trusted Antonia completely."

The BBC's drama commissioning controller Ben Stephenson said: "Starting at EastEnders, Antonia worked her way up to become one of the best directors in the country working across television and film, including the remarkable Priest.

"She has left us far too soon. She remains an inspiration to us all and her work's indelible impact on British culture is with us for ever."