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83 out of 89 people found the following review useful:

Sheer magic by Jeremy Northam, Peter O'Toole and Sam Neill

Author: RebekkaD from Germany
21 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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52 out of 63 people found the following review useful:

Warm and comforting behind the rather harsh shell that surrounds it.

Author: Jamie Ward from United Kingdom
17 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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39 out of 49 people found the following review useful:

A film to warm even the coldest hearts Dean Spanley though quirky is memorable

Author: ( from United Kingdom
17 December 2008

*** This review may contain 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 sance 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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28 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

No summary 'cause I don't want to spoil it

Author: bill mitchell (wfred1959) from United States
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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27 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Four Outstanding Thumbs-Up for Dean Spanley

Author: alinekaplan-1 from United States
30 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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22 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Life as a Dog...Life without Tears

Author: mlktrout from Florida
27 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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21 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

'Trippingly on the tongue'

Author: gradyharp from United States
13 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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24 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

Why do the critics hate it?

Author: kjewitt from United Kingdom
16 December 2008

*** This review may contain 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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20 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

A sleeping masterpiece!

Author: Tim Johnson from Fremantle, Australia
14 March 2009

*** This review may contain 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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19 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

To mis-quote Tokaji's description - film of kings and king of films

Author: iain-218 from Menmuir, Scotland
5 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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