Sunday, 10 May 2009

“Dean Spanley". A Review of the 2008 Movie now released on a 2009 DVD.

“…Human Fear Has A Dreadful Smell…Dreadful…”

"Dean Spanley" is that rarity - a weird little film that you think is going to be absolute rubbish at first, but then twists and turns and delightfully works itself out. The script - based on the 1936 book by Lord Dunsany called "My Talks With Dean Spanley" - is adapted and expanded by top British writer Alan Sharp - and is about loss and reincarnation, but in a very strange roundabout kind of way...

Peter O'Toole plays the elderly English gentleman Horatio Fisk - who is visited every Thursday by his punctual son (Jeremy Northam). Set in affluent Edwardian London, their meets are convivial rather than warm - but of late - increasingly spiked. Fisk Junior feels dutiful rather than loving towards his 'near-to-the-end' Dad - and their tit-for-tat word battles and mind games are eating him up. Something has distanced them - and worse - turned his father into a boor - a man who you suspect was once very kind, but now isn't.

Fisk Junior longs of course for a real father and son relationship - free of the bickering and incessant quips - but more than that - he longs for his father to get to the core of the problem - open up and talk about his other son's loss in the recent Boer war. The no-nonsense housekeeper Mrs. Brimley (played so subtly by Judy Parfitt) hardly knows what to say or do anymore - and just stoically gets on with it - real talking just isn't done in educated circles...

By chance into the equation comes the equally awkward and stuffy man of the cloth Dean Spanley - played beautifully by Sam Neill (easily his most difficult and wordy role to date). The Dean seems odd - even a bit nutty - and may or may not harbour dangerous views about reincarnation for a man of a very fixed religion. Enter another Australian Bryan Brown who can procure anything - including the Dean's craved favourite tipple - a rare Imperial wine that sends the cleric into near rapture - a few drops of this stuff in the Dean's veins and things start to happen...and without giving too much away...on the story goes...

While O'Toole is typically magisterial and impressive in his role - as you would expect of such a quality guy - it's Sam Neill who is revelatory. There are sequences (especially towards the end) where his dialogue passages are enormous - and he carries them off with style - even actually carrying the movie itself.

This is the second feature film by New Zealand Director Toa Fraser ("No. 2" was his first) and from the interviews in the extras section, Toa 'knows' he got lucky with such a Grade-A cast of actors. O'Toole's interview is witty, intelligent, perceptive - all the things you suspect he is in real life - while poor Sam Neil seems genuinely tortured when asked to speak - like someone is pulling his teeth. Bryan Brown and Jeremy Northam just seem to be enjoying themselves - involved in a film they know to be a little sweetheart.

"Dean Spanley" was a lovely surprise - and genuinely uplifting. Buy it or rent it soon. Highly recommended.

PS: Although shot in hi-def, it hasn't been issued on either Blu Ray or on a Region 1 disc - so the Region 2 DVD is presently the only way to get your hands on this film.

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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