Dean Spanley (2008) Poster


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No summary 'cause I don't want to spoil it
bill mitchell (wfred1959)21 September 2011
This film was primarily funded by the New Zealand Film Trust (or something like that). Sam Neill is like you have never seen him before (quite frankly I didn't think he had it in him) and Peter O'Toole is simply marvelous. Proving that age does not diminish true talent. The first 1/2 hour seems to drag due to character development, but the final 45 minutes is about the best movies have to offer. If your heart doesn't wrench and tears don't form, then you're simply not human. This is one of the top 5 films I have ever seen and the standard that I will forever hold "art" movies against. You MUST watch this movie. It is one of the finest ever made and one that I will always remember. For a generation that grew up on Tarantino films and the SAW series this will teach them what film-making is all about.
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Sheer magic by Jeremy Northam, Peter O'Toole and Sam Neill
RebekkaD21 December 2008
Peter O'Toole here gives a performance that shows the breadth and depth of his abilities fully and makes an unforgettable impression. It would be strange if O'Toole would not get a number of awards for this. But the lead role in this film belongs to Jeremy Northam, who plays Henslowe Fisk, plagued son of the O'Toole character. Northam carries a lot of this film and with his enormous talent and subtle as well as multi-layered acting deepens every moment of humour as well as emotion. Northam again dazzles with his talent and the truthfulness and intensity of his performance, and in this case shows how magical film can be if some of the best actors play as a real ensemble and support each other's acting. One can only wish for more lead roles for this extraordinary actor. And Sam Neill in his indeed slightly uncommon role as Dean Spanley shows that he can do more than we have ever seen from him. Some of his scenes are extremely difficult to execute in a way that is intense without slipping into silliness, but Neill does it immaculately.

The screenplay by Alan Sharp is extremely intelligent and witty, with some of the best funny lines I have ever heard in a film. He has, if I may say so, improved the story by Lord Dunsany very much. The director did very elegant, unobtrusive and subtle, most convincing work in every regard. And the music should also be mentioned, as it perfectly reflected the tone and style of this film. The overall experience of this film is sheer pleasure, of the deep sort with maybe a tear in one's eye, and then a warm glow of delight and remembrance.

Actually, this is not a film about dogs, but about human beings. It is not an eccentric movie based on a strange premise, but a truthful one that reflects some of the deepest issues of our lives. It is not only very intelligent and funny and deeply moving, but among films definitely a work of art.
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Life as a Dog...Life without Tears
mlktrout27 December 2010
What a great movie.

Peter O'Toole's character, old Mr. Fiske, believes himself to be impervious to pain. There are things that happen and are simply inevitable. There's no point in mourning. This belief drives a wedge between him and his son (Jeremy Northam), since O'Toole doesn't mourn properly for the loss of his other son or for his wife, who apparently died of grief.

Enter Sam Neill's character, Dean Spanley, who believes himself to be the reincarnation of a dog, and remembers with greatest joy the fun of rolling in dung and tearing apart rabbits. Young Fiske (Northam) discovers this and plies the man with Tokay to get Spanley to open up about his past life. And the Tokay -- supplied by a strange and rough but very funny fellow named Wrather (Bryan Brown) -- works its magic, getting Spanley to reminisce about the good old days as a dog even as both young and old Fiske AND Wrather all realize something critical about the dogs Spanley remembers.

I won't say more, as I don't want to spoil it; I will simply say I loved it. I don't believe in reincarnation, but this is a movie any dog lover can enjoy, as well as anyone who's ever had a strained relationship with a parent or child. You're left with a smile and a bit of mist over the eyes and perhaps a wild impulse to go and roll in some dung, or chase a rabbit.
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Four Outstanding Thumbs-Up for Dean Spanley
alinekaplan-130 December 2010
We found Dean Spanley by surfing Comcast On Demand and were delighted by this witty, thought-provoking and emotional film. It's based on a story by Lord Dunsany, a writer who "imaginatively transforms materials from The Arabian Nights, classical mythology, Celtic, Germanic, and Hindu folklore as well as from medieval lays and quest romances." The cast is amazing for a New Zealand film, the script is excellent, the acting is superb and the climactic scene is totally gripping for all that it takes place in a dinner-table conversation. American film makers should take note of how this is done -- but they won't. Peter O'Toole should get an Oscar for his performance as Fisk Senior -- but he won't. We should all be able to see more movies like Dean Spanley -- but I'm not holding my breath. Don't let that keep you from enjoying this terrific movie. Four enthusiastic thumbs-up for Dean Spanley. (Dean is a title, not a name.)
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Superb, unique and immensely pleasurable
fnj200224 January 2013
Dean Spanley is delightful, warm, and deeply affecting. It deals with timeless topics, while recreating a rich bygone atmosphere. To hear the repartee of the four principles is priceless. The language is sparklingly literate, precise and urbane, and the choice of words and turns of phrase actually sensual to those who have a love of companionable conversation.

The incomparable Peter O'Toole at the peak of his mastery, Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, and Bryan Brown weave an immersive presentation of pure acting talent such as is seldom seen. And it is set up by top-notch writing, exquisite sets and beautiful cinematography and costuming.

Mr. O'Toole can match the very best acting in cinematic history using only his eyes
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Dean Spanley - an unforgettable experience
ziek-169-85364725 September 2011
An incredibly pleasant and unexpected surprise.

Surrender the one hundred minutes and be attentive to this incognito masterpiece - a refreshingly warm and wonderful experience perpetrated by the author, the producer, the director and consummate actors in made-for-roles. For the mature of all ages.

Quote - Young Fisk: "It is a common place observation that remarkable events often have ordinary beginnings"

Quote - Old Fisk to Young Fisk: "One moment you are running along, the next, you are, no more"

Ziek /bamfrmcan
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'Trippingly on the tongue'
gradyharp13 September 2011
Shakespeare addresses the joys of hearing the English language spoken as perfectly and beautifully as every actor does in this thoroughly delightful film DEAN SPANLEY: 'Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.' Based on the novel 'My Talks with Dean Spanley' by the colorful writer Lord Dunsany (Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, July 24, 1878 in London, England, UK - October 25, 1957 (age 79) in Dublin, Ireland) and adapted for the screen with great dexterity and gentility by Alan Sharp, the story is a study in the meaning of reincarnation in the most delightful sense of the term!

Set in Edwardian England where upper lips are always stiff and men from the Colonies are not entirely to be trusted, Fisk Senior (Peter O'Toole) is caustic, nihilistic has little time or affection for his son Fisk Junior (Jeremy Northam) - they visit only on Thursdays and then in only the most routine of circumstances: even the housekeeper Mrs. Brimley (Judy Parfitt) knows to only fix one boring Hot Pot for them to eat. Fisk Senior seems to have placed all his hopes on his other son who was killed in the Boer War of 1899 to 1902. Fisk Junior encouraged by his friend Wrather (Bryan Brown) breaks tradition and takes his father to a talk by the guru Nawab of Ranjiput (Ramon Tikaram) where they hear about the Indian concept of reincarnation and the inferiority of cats. The lecture is attended also by a vicar named Dean Spanley (Sam Neill) and what follows is a series of conversations and revelations over glasses of Tokay that seem to open up the vicar's remembrance of past lives - a fact that eventually relates to Fisk Senior and manages to change the grumpy old man's outlook on life.

Directed by Toa Fraser with terrific atmosphere and Edwardian elegance, the actors are all superb, but one of the most satisfying aspects of this film is simply hearing a screenplay of perfect English spoken symphonically. It is a thoroughly delightful film on every level. Highly Recommended.

Grady Harp
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A sleeping masterpiece!
Tim Johnson14 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
We saw this delightful film yesterday in Fremantle and both of us were enchanted by the opportunity to watch a movie without all the bells and whistles, with an outstanding cast and with a script that left the viewer with some questions.I am not sure about Diane but I saw a film that I did not expect to see; a film whose script made me wonder at the eventual direction of the film and one that made both of us cherish the impact of such a gentle story well told. I was captivated by the shot selection of the director as well as the materializing of those shots through the talent of the cinematographer. Gentle movies are rare these days and New Zealand seems to be a country that has the movie making impetus to provide superb movies of a different style. The viewing public is indeed fortunate that this movie producing country can continue making movies of this caliber.Of course the movie was not just a New Zealand production; the graceful hand of English film makers was evident throughout as was the marvelous understated acting by Australia's Bryan Brown but I left the theater feeling that I had again seen a wonderful product of New Zealand film making. This is a film not to be missed.
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Warm and comforting behind the rather harsh shell that surrounds it.
Jamie Ward17 December 2008
In what is perhaps one of the most peculiar of films to be released this year, director Toa Fraser adapts a classic book written by the late Lord Dunsany and translates it into a memorable production of dream-like perceptions. Indeed there is much to be said for a movie which revolves around hotpots, spaniels, the transmigration of souls, Thursdays and fine wine of all things, all the while telling a remarkably profound story of whimsical-like form inhabited by sternly grounded characters unaware of their otherworldly characteristics. It is a rather unique mix of the fantastic with the mundane and cynical; a study of the human spirit, and all the little frivolous things that occupy us without bringing attention to their remote significance. In that vein writer Alan Sharp makes his screenplay an insight into how the ordinary can suddenly be turned upside on its head and given extraordinary resonance. Dean Spanley is, by all accounts, a notably dry experience, but accompanied with the always engrossing performances of the central cast and a wry sense of humour present in the script, the experience like it is central character is warm and comforting behind the rather harsh shell that surrounds it.

The most remarkable of all of the movie's components is its plot, which counteracts against central character Fisk Senior's (Peter O'Toole) callous, very much close-minded approach to life. Going from happenstance to coincidence and then closely followed by an almost prophetic like relationship, Fisk's son strikes up an interesting bond with the local Dean (Sam Neill), who when under the modest influence of the rarest of wines, recalls his past life as a canine. From here on in the feature exposes its most bizarre roots, showcasing a character and story that often perplexes more than intrigues, but amuses all the same. It's certainly an interesting, and for the most part engaging narrative, but for all intents and purposes always feels like second batter to much firmer and more developed elements. This, along with a somewhat overdone conclusion forms what are perhaps the movie's only two major faults, but even then such moments are not without their inherent charm and significance to the remainder of the feature.

It is instead through the character of Fisk Senior and his relationship with his ever unappreciated and frustrated son Fisk Junior (Jeremy Northam) that Dean Spanley is best at documenting and exploring. As a father and a general human being, Senior is a callous, opinionated and close minded bastard; by all means he means no real harm through his stern actions -in fact through his eyes he sees himself as teaching the world a well deserved lesson- but to those around him, he remains a senile old coot not worth paying attention to. Junior is very much his antithesis, no doubt taking more of his deceased mother's genes than his fathers, and as a result the dynamic between the two is consistently engaging to watch and always palpable. Director Toa Fraser does particularly well in directing the two to be familiar but withdrawn from each other, resulting in a relationship that counteracts that between Junior and Dean Spanley.

As mentioned above however, it is within these frequent highlights of the film that only go to make the less tangible moments that exist without Senior's presence more obvious and dubious. Dean Spanley tells a fine, and notably uplifting story, but its heart and core lies within its characters that are most prominent in the forms of O'Toole and Northam. It's worth mentioning then that as the feature goes on, focus on each is given adequate balance, culminating in a clashing of the two characters' stories in a timid manner that is made all the more profound by Mr. O'Toole's performance. It's a somewhat out of place resolution, and one that seems to go against the character of Fisk Senior a little too much, but the emotional payoff that is warranted from such a shift makes up for any out of balance characterisation.

For all its eccentricities, dry humour and rich sense of character however, it must be noted that the experience of watching Dean Spanley certainly isn't for everyone. A drama rooted in classic prose, focusing heavily on character, philosophy and small nuances of psychology and life, Toa Fraser here sticks to his guns and delivers an unapologetically intelligent, cultured and insightful character study kept in check by warmth of heart and unique personality. If there is one major selling point for the feature that will allow all audiences to get something from the feature however, it simply lies within the timeless presence of Peter O'Toole who gives a wonderful performance befitting of his stature and the character in which he resides. It can be a touching, humorous and even thought-provoking experience, but like a fine wine, you're best not to get too involved here; this one's for sitting back and soaking in one sip at a time, and yes, it might be a little syrupy but it's enough to get lost in and enjoy all the same.

  • Written by Jamie Robert Ward (
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To mis-quote Tokaji's description - film of kings and king of films
iain-2185 November 2011
Like a fine wine this film moves its way around the palette. Roles are superbly under-played; silence replaces explosion, wry smile for laughter, lingering looks without raised eyebrows. This is a play of manners, a perfectly pitched study in to the calm veil that shields all from underlying raw emotions.

What's it about? Well it has men, women, dogs and wine; it is set in Edwardian England, and if having watched it you think its about man's best friend, then please avoid having children, let your genes stop with you.

To me Dean Spanley was like one of those magic eye pictures; where you may stare for a long time before the mind relaxes and lets you realise what you are looking at - and in this case it is a real work of art.

Be warned this is a deceptively powerful story - take tissues.
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Very unusual but polished; Anglophiles or sophisticated film fans will enjoy it
Amy Adler12 December 2011
Mr. Fisk, Jr. (Jeremy Northam) visits his cantankerous father, Fisk Sr. (Peter O'Toole) every Thursday for the noon meal. The long-standing cook and housekeeper, Mrs. Brimley (Judy Parfitt) always makes the same "hotpot" meal, for that's what Sr. demands. Knowing his father is in a rut and becoming more ornery every day, younger Fisk suggests that the two of them go hear a lecture on reincarnation. Most reluctantly, older Fisk agrees to go. Once there, another attendee asks the man if people can appear again as an animal or visa versa. The speaker says yes. Meanwhile, younger Fisk has gotten to know a gentleman named Dean Spanley (Sam Neill) who was at the "club" and likes an unusual drink, Tokai. Wanting to know the man better, Fisk Jr. asks a dealer (Bryan Brown) for the beverage, which turns out to be very expensive. But, its seems to be the only way to get a meeting with Spanley! Over glasses of the drink, younger Fisk is startled to hear an account of Dean's that he was once a DOG and what happened in his previous life! Well, well. Since the tale is spellbinding, Fisk listens. Will more earth shaking secrets be revealed? You bet! This is a very sophisticated film, told mostly in dialogue, and it focuses primarily on the male characters. Anglophiles will like it or film goers with refined tastes, as there is very little action. All of the acting is terrific, as are the beautiful sets and costumes. Script and direction are up to snuff, too. Therefore, if you admire the cast, as I do, or like the unusual offerings in the cinematic arena, go fetch dear Dean.
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A film to warm even the coldest hearts Dean Spanley though quirky is memorable
enquiries-15417 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Dean Spanley Peter O'Toole is magnificent as the miserable and obnoxious Edwardian patriarch Horatio Fisk. Fisk's favourite saying is "poppycock". His opinion and beliefs are aired often and loudly, and brooks no challenge or contrary opinion. His relationship with his son Henslowe Fisk ( Jeremy Northam) at their weekly dutiful meetings are cool and distant. His father's refusal to mourn the death of Henslowe's older Brother in the Boer war, drives an even deeper wedge between them. The part of Dean Stanley is played by the excellent Sam Neal as a churchman who is regressed into remembering a previous incarnation, whenever he drinks an exotic wine called Hungarian Tokay. The story is a little like Scrooge with a twist, instead of the ghosts of Xmas past the trigger is the memories of Dean Spanleys previous life as a dog. The dog in question is a Welsh Springer Spaniel (Wag) who is led astray by a mongrel friend and mystifyingly disappears leaving his owner bereft. The dogs master was the young Horatio Fisk. We are led to believe that because of the loss of an adored pet at such an impressionable age gave the stimulus for his coldness in later life, preventing him from forming a deep and loving relationship with his family. Probably believing that the pain and loss of the dog could happen again if he allowed his emotions free rein. At a type of séance where the Dean is plied by Tokay, the whole story of what happened to Wag and the splendour and exhilaration of being a dog enfolds. At last the old man can grieve, not only for his long lost dog but his relationship with his family and the loss of his son. I loved the deep affection and understanding shown between humans and their pets, and the emotion finally shown between father and son. Though I was slightly confused about Wag constantly trying to catch the moon and barking at it with his mongrel friend. This is not a behaviour I ever have to treat. Wolves and wild dogs perhaps but not our domestic dogs Perhaps in 1904, when the original story was set, then dogs had more freedom to roam and were latchkey dogs. Then behaviour like this may have occurred but I doubt it, I think the original author Lord Dunsany possibly had a mad spaniel that bayed at the moon, hence the reference to these actions. I really enjoyed this quirky, warm, and whimsical film; it brought a lump to my throat. The old curmudgeonly Horatio Fisk finally finds warmth in his heart, helped by a bouncing puppy Spaniel. I think anyone watching this incredibly well acted film will also leave with a warm glow. A fitting Christmas fare. If O'Toole is not recommended for an award for this portrayal then there is no justice. Stan Rawlinson (Doglistener) is one of the UKs leading Behaviourists and Obedience Trainers based just outside London near Hampton Court
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Why do the critics hate it?
kjewitt16 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
First let me declare an interest. I am a screenwriter. When I first started I used to imagine my lines being spoken by the actors I loved, ie the great actors. I soon learnt to change my ways. In this film, Alan Sharp has written pages and pages of dialogue which can only be delivered by top class actors. It's a huge risk: but that's what we like in this business - a man who puts his cojones on the block. Fortunately, the actors are top class and they do deliver. Sam Neill is, in my view, turning into a great actor before our eyes. First he breathed life into Cardinal Wolsey: and in this film he's even better. Honourable mention must also go to Baron Dunsany's book. Question for budding screenwriters: how many similar books are out there waiting to be discovered? Criteria for inclusion: pre-war (therefore out of copyright), popular in their time, unashamedly commercial rather than great literature. It's no use looking in bookshops: these books are all out of print and the writers forgotten. Second honourable mention goes to Screen East, for backing this subtle and tasteful and surprising story about repressed grief. It's one of the perennial themes and all the bangs and explosions and robots in the world won't make it go away.
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A quirky and touching story of love, wine and dogs
Maddyclassicfilms21 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Dean Spanley is directed by Toa Fraser,is based on the book by Lord Dunsany, has music by Don McGlashan and stars Jeremy Northam, Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill, Art Malick, Judy Parfit and Bryan Brown

Dean Spanley is a quirky but very moving and well written story about family,friendship,dogs and wine.

Set during the early 1900's it tells the story of Mr Fisk Junior(Jeremy Northam)who's life mainly revolves around Thursday meetings with his distant father Horatio Fisk(Peter O'Toole).

Horatio is emotionally distant and set in his ways and is silently mourning the death of his other son Harrington.Harrington was killed in the Boar war and his death destroyed the family with his mother dying of her grief.On one Thursday outing to attend a seminar on reincarnation they meet the mysterious priest Dean Spanley(Sam Neill).The Dean we later learn believes he was a dog in a past life and keeps having flashbacks to that life.

Fisk Junior along with the good old Australian middle man Wrather(Bryan Brown)invites the Dean to dinner several times to learn more about him.Wrather is able to purchase several cases of Imperial Tokay wine(which never fails to unleash the Deans past experiences in truly hysterical scenes).

Although I love the book I prefer the film mainly because in the book Horatio doesn't appear it's just Fisk Junior,Wrather and the Dean sitting around having dinner.And it's the touching story of the father and son reconnecting and dealing with their grief that allows this to work so well.

Peter O'Toole is heartbreaking in this and makes the film for me and there's top support from Sam Neill,Bryan Brown,Art Malick and Judy Parfit as Horatio's long suffering housekeeper Mrs Brimley.Alan Sharpes screenplay transfers to the screen beautifully and is the right mix of joy,the bizarre and sadness.

This is a must see that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure you won't be disappointed by this little gem.
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Restored My Faith in Film
samkan5 October 2014
I don't assign many films a "10" as such should be awarded only the truly great ones that come around a few times a decade; e.g., CITIZEN KANE, THE GODFATHER, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, etc. But DEAN SPANLEY is so emotionally enjoyable (at the same time avoiding the "deep" movie genre) that it must be given something to distinguish it from the tearjerker weepy slop that shamelessly tug at one's heart stings; e.g., TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, DRIVING MISS DAISY, MOONSTRUCK, etc. True, the first half of DS not only gives no indication whatsoever of where it is headed but appears intentionally disparate in approach. For such reason a viewer might almost lose interest - as I came close to doing. But the character performances, Neil and O'Toole in particular - mildly comic - eventually turn captivating. Like other COMMENTERs herein, given commercial concerns and what passes for entertainment these day, I'm amazed that this film even got made. I'd forgotten that a movie could do something for me like DS did. Imagine a film being both reverent and irreverent at the same time. The result is relevance. And marvelous. I gush. Watch the movie.
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Artistry on Film
atlasmb25 April 2014
I urge viewers not to read any summary of this story that reveals details of the plot or its premises. I will only say that the story is mystical and quixotic. Some will like it, some will not, but as you can see on these pages, this film has many admirers.

The story starts with a narration by Young Fisk, who is visiting the elder Fisk at his home. Their relationship is strained and combative. They decide to spend the day together in a rather unusual way. It is the beginning of a journey by Young Fisk that will culminate in some discoveries and some wondrous understandings.

Set circa 1910, as the motorcar becomes a symbol for the declining past and the nascent future, one of the best elements of this film, in my opinion, is its richness of tone. Scenes are shot lovingly, with an emphasis on art, and its beauty, as it occurs in architecture, painting, literature, language, music, and the enrichment of the senses.

"Dean Spanley" reminds one of the joys of the well-written tale, where language enthralls. As a film, it celebrates the well-read line, the poignancy in pauses, the synergy between image and music.

And it gives us some performances to be cherished. Though no performance is dissonant in this film, I particularly enjoyed the performances of Peter O'Toole as the elder Fisk and Sam Neill as Dean Spanley. Do yourself a favor and bask in their prodigiousness.
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A little gem. Everything about it is just right
patrick powell10 December 2013
The puzzle is why this film was ever made in the first place, though I hasten to add that I don't mean that as any kind of criticism. It is a gentle, rather whimsical and moving piece which I can't think would find a mass audience anywhere much, though that, too, is not meant as criticism.

To put it all in perspective: thank goodness there are some people around in the film world prepared to produce films of this calibre for apparently no other reason than that they like films and like making good ones. It is a British and New Zealand co-production which astutely avoids all the pitfalls many smaller scale British films fall into. Its lightness of touch is admirable where all too often Brit films are just a tad heavy-handed and suffer as a result. There is only a small cast – just five main characters – and the story itself is superficially slight, yet it packs a punch which touches true emotion rather than mere sentimental whimsy. It would be unfair to pick out any particular performance because none stands out above the others – they are all excellent, as is the gently witty screenplay.

Its evocation of Edwardian Britain is all the better for being understated – this is no 'period piece' and thus avoids the horrors just beneath the surface which many a 'period piece' singularly fails to avoid. My advice to everyone is to watch this and savour everything about it. If you like well-made films, you will probably love this. I shan't bother to provide a synopsis because that would be thoroughly misleading. There's far more to this than meets the eye.
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Engaging and thoroughly enjoyable
wjw01265 August 2013
What at first I thought would be a "light comedy" turned into an engaging and enjoyable film. The theme of "companionship" seems to resonate throughout the film. Seen through the eyes of Fisk the younger (Jeremy Northam)we are taken on a journey of understanding: what causes a person to emotionally "shut-down"? Fisk the younger's conversations with his father (Peter O'Toole) are emotionally strained and at best, simply "dutiful". As the only surviving family member, he visits his father each Thursday to fulfill his role as loving son. The father - "Fisk senior" - is crotchety, opinionated and without even enough love to call his son by his first name - Henslowe. Instead, he refers to his son as a headmaster would refer to a student: Fisk junior. (Made me think of O'Toole in "Goodbye Mr. Chips"!)But Henslowe is looking for a way to breakthrough with his relationship with his father and is given the chance by meeting Dean Spanley (Sam Neill) when Henslowe, his father, and Spanley all attend a discussion on "The Transmigration of Souls". There begins a regular meeting between Spanley and Henslowe - helped along by Henslowe agreeing to provide a drink called "Tokay" to Spanley, in exchange for Spanley relating his views on Re-incarnation. What follows is not what you think, but allows Henslowe to possibly understand why his father acts as he does. Without going into more detail and possibly spoiling it, I found this film to be superb in its acting. Northam is the anti-thesis of his father. O'Toole is stern and unloving, yet you still sense he misses those who have died. Northam is loving, yet not "whimpy" - he has a backbone. You sense at one point that the relationship is going to explode, but it doesn't. Neill is wonderful as the slightly eccentric Spanley. Brian Brown adds the touch of whimsy as the "soldier of fortune", who provides Henslowe with his needed "Tokay". I am always amazed to find these films and wonder why I never heard of them before. It is a wonderful study in human emotion and the longing for companionship - whether in dogs or humans. And, it is a triumph when we breakthrough and understand another persons pain and help them overcome. There is so much going on in this film: the study of how each one deals with loss. How we each deal with grief. The theme of companionship seen by the viewing of pictures or "Wrather" in his two-seater. The conversations of Spanley as "wags". All explore the theme of companionship which is the most basic of longings that we all have. I only gave it a 9 instead of 10, simply because I found the first half hour to be rather slow-moving. That may just be my own impression. The best part of the film is certainly the last 45 minutes. It was one of those films that when it ended, you wished it hadn't!
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Peter O'Toole in perfect shape
Harry T. Yung2 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Despite some belief to the contrary, "Venus" last year was absolutely not this great actor's last Oscar bid. I hope he gets it this year with "Dean Spanley". If not, he will return.

Despite the title role which was wonderfully performed by Sam Neill, "Dean Spanley" is O'Toole's film. Structurally, it is akin to a male choral quartet, but O'Toole is "the soul of the film" as the TIFF program aptly puts it.

You could call this a period piece but the story is so universal that it could have taken place anywhere, any time. O'Toole portrays a desolate old man Fisk who has lost his younger son in the Boer War and his wife grieving her son. His good-natured elder son Fisk Jr. (Jeremy Northam) visits him every Thursday trying to bring some spark back into his life, with no avails. Upper lip at it stiffest, Fisk responds to his club's attendant's consoling words with fierce stare and: "Our lost? He is the one that got killed".

This film, however, is a comedy, the kind of comedy with pathos that brings the entire theatre to a complete silence and then tears, after rounds of hearty laughs. The laughs are mainly British subtlety and can at times be also outlandishly funny. The fun comes mainly from Spanley, a somewhat eccentric character shrouded in a whiff of mystery. Attracted initially by Spanley's fascination with reincarnation, Fisk Jr. courts his friendship by offering to provide the exquisite Tokay wine while giving a dinner invitation. He does not have any. "It's not a lie; just deferred truth", Fisk Jr. says to himself, and proceeds to try to procure the rare prize he promised, which leads him to earthy, ever resourceful Wrather (Byran Brown) who completes the quartet.

The pleasure of this simple, affecting and eventually wonderfully heart-warming film is best left to be discovered by the audience. The cast is marvelous, including, in addition to the four men, Judy Parfitt who plays Fisk's housekeeper Mrs Brimley so lovingly. But in the end, it's Peter O'Toole.
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A mystery explored reveals our inner self
trails36920 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This film is a masterpiece with a great script, patiently building to a crescendo, delivered by skilled charming actors.

Once upon a time, more than hundred years ago, before Google, before computers, before television, before movies, before radio, intelligent people still quested for understanding. If you are curious about reincarnation you might go to a public lecture and be aware of other people in the audience. The mysteries of why pain comes into your life, what gives happiness, can a soul survive death is the same in any century, and a quiet persistent pursuit yields result.

The other reviewers do an excellent job of telling of Fisk Jr. Trying through weekly visits to thaw his curmudgeon distant father. was the father always abrasive and bitter? Will he always be so?

What unlocks the emotions is a shaggy dog story. Somehow the aroma of a rare wine enjoyed by Dean Spanley unlocks the acute sense of smell of a dead spaniel, who lives again to tell his adventure. This is the adventure of the three astonished men and you the audience. It is more emotionally rewarding than all the explosions and chases and violence that are not in this film.
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Dog Days
writers_reign12 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
One can only applaud production companies willing to bankroll films as non-commercial as this. I'd be hard put to say exactly who its target audience is but I hope it finds it. It's something that could only be English despite strong elements of Hungary and Australia. It's probably just as well that the title is sufficiently insipid to bypass those in search of exploding heads and twisted metal and although I have just seen it at a Multiplex it has all the earmarks - one might even say dog-earmarks - of Art House fodder. To nutshell it we're in Edwardian England where Jeremy Northam pays a duty call each week on his eccentric father, Peter O'Toole. There had been another son who perished in the Boer War. Enter Dean Spanley, Sam O'Neill, who has a penchant for Tokay and a tendency to reminisce under its influence of the years he spent as a dog. Rounding out the principals is Bryan Brown, procurer of the hard-to-find Tokay and witness to the reminiscing. It comes together rather too well, perhaps, but remains laden with charm. Try and catch it if you're feeling pixilated.
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What a great film!
FiniusTBluster28 March 2012
If you want proof that the people running Hollywood are morons, you have it in the fact that this movie was never released in the US. It is a better film than anything else I saw this past year, and that includes The Kings Speech. If anyone tells you they don't make great movies anymore, this film is proof they do.

This film is a delight... well written, acted, and directed. My wife and I have now watched it six times. Each time we discover yet another hilarious, brilliant touch. This movie is funny, 'very intelligent, uplifting, and at the same time extremely thoughtful. Peter O'Toole is a hoot. Get it (you will have to order the DVD from Canada)... watch it (it is available to download in the US).. tell your friends about it. This movie is the real deal.
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aprilmaid6 March 2013
For dog lovers a particular delight (cats get fairly short shrift!) and for those who aren't dog lovers in particular, a pleasant, interesting and gentle journey with some favourite, but frequently under-rated, actors. It's always a pleasure to know long-time favourites - Peter O'Toole and Judy Parfitt - are still busy filling roles that seem made for them. Northam, Neill, Brown and Malik round out a well-balanced cast and are convincing and articulate in excellent Edwardian fashion. This works as well as a fairy tale for those who take the film with a large pinch of salt as, one assumes, it does for those who are believers in such fairy tales. Either way, a charming film, not flashy, not big- budget, not likely to turn up at a box-office near you but a delight nevertheless.
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Unexpectedly outstanding film.
dsoohoo2 June 2011
"A Christmas Carol" meets "Ordinary People": "Dean Spanley" is an incredible little gem, a quiet and touching movie. No special effects, no violence or sex, just fabulous writing and dialog, a quirky, eccentric and unexpected plot line, topped by exquisite performances create a surprisingly charming and moving film. Jeremy Northam plays his character in an appropriately understated but warmly likable way to counterpoint the more whimsical performances of Peter O'Toole and Sam Neill. Mr. Neill has the most difficult but most critical role. The movie is completely dependent on the viewer believing his performance and he pulls it off splendidly. He is the adult reading the children's tale to a trio of rapt toddlers. Peter O'Toole displays an amazing range of emotions with just a stare and bowing of his head. And Bryan Brown plays his character with his usual Australian wink and nod. The final star of the movie is the underrated musical score.

I am a little baffled at some of the lukewarm critical reviews I have read here. The member reviews have been much more generous. I can find little or no fault with the movie and have watched it several times over just to enjoy all of its subtle little nuances.
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Of dogs and men
Peter Kettle11 April 2014
Dean Spanley is certainly among the most delightful and subtle films I've seen for a long time. It is an unpretentious labour of love, a co-production of New Zealand and Britain, made partly with lottery money. Apart from being, in an entirely unsentimental way, the most interesting film about man and dogs, it is also brilliantly shot, wonderfully acted, and entirely lacking in all the ingredients a focus group or a big studio would demand. No heroics, indeed no hero; no sex; no violence; and no real drama. It has, instead, a wry humour, much deep imagination, and a series of fine performances by Sam Neill, Peter O'Toole, Bryan Brown, Jeremy Northam and the consistently wonderful Judy Parfitt. It has a great cameo by Dudley Sutton as well. It isn't a wonderful earth shatteringly important masterpiece in world cinema but it merits a burst of enthusiasm for its celebration of wit, humour, and the sadness all of us have to bear. The story comes from the short novel by Lord Dunsany, an odd writer who I admire. A widower (Peter O'Toole) cannot come to terms with his elder son's death in the Boer war and the subsequent demise of his wife. The question of dogs being reincarnated as humans arises over the consumption of a rare imperial Tokay. Richly atmospheric, this is a profound gem.
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