Antonia Bird, Director of ‘Priest,’ Dead at 54

British director’s credits include “Mad Love” and “Ravenous”

British film and television director Antonia Bird, whose work attracted controversy and acclaim in equal measure, died Thursday. She was 54 and the cause of death was anaplastic thyroid cancer.

Bird was perhaps best known for helming the drama “Priest,” which followed a gay cleric as he struggled to deal with the incestuous relationship between members of his flock, was widely condemned by the Catholic church and inspired protests. The film was a difficult sell for Miramax and its then corporate parent the Walt Disney Company, which ultimately withstood threats of boycotts and released the film to mixed reviews in 1995.

“It’s about people’s inhumanity to each other, and it’s about forgiveness and faith,” Bird told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time.  “One of the things I wanted to do was make people cry, because it just breaks my heart the way people are ostracized. We just have this ridiculous way of treating each other.”

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She would go on to direct  studio films like “Mad Love,” a teen romantic drama starring Chris O’Donnell and Drew Barrymore, and the cannibalistic horror film “Ravenous” with Guy Pearce, as well as “Hamburg Cell,” a Channel 4/HBO production about the 9/11 hijackers.

Robert Carlyle, who worked with Bird on “Priest” and “Ravenous, tweeted: “Such a sad day today. RIP Antonia Bird. Farewell my beautiful friend.”

Along with Carlyle, Mark Cousins and “Trainspotting” writer Irvine Welsh, Bird created the production company 4-Way Film.

On television, she had an extensive career directing episodes of “Inspector Morse,” “Eastenders” and the recent BBC One drama “The Village.”

She also had an accomplished career in theater, working with the likes of Ian McKellen, Simon Callow and Wallace Shawn, and rising to  become a resident director at the Royal Court Theatre and an assistant director to Richard Eyre at the National Theatre.