Dean Spanley: DVD Review
Released by Universal Home
Cast: Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, Bryan Brown, Art Malik
Sometimes a film comes along which takes you completely by surprise.
A film which you try and explain to people the basic plot of and they look at
you like you've lost the plot completely.
Dean Spanley is one of those films.
Based on the book by Lord Dunsany, this film from New Zealand director Toa
Fraser (No 2) is based in London Edwardian times and centres around a
cantankerous Fisk senior (played with impish irascibility by Peter O' Toole) and
his relationship with his son Fisk Junior (Jeremy Northam)
Junior spends every Thursday with his father - out of a sense of family
ritual rather than a desire to be with him; but each visit drives a wedge even
further between the two.
One day Fisk junior suggests they attend a seminar on reincarnation from a
Swami Nala Prash; however O'Toole's character dismisses the entire meeting as
Tucked away at the back of the audience, is Dean Spanley (played by Sam
Neill) - his attendance piques Fisk Junior's curiosity and he decides to invite
the Dean to dinner to further explore his beliefs.
But the Dean has to be tempted to attend with the promise of the provision of
a bottle of a Hungarian wine known as Tokay - a wine only given out by Royal
The problem is that this Tokay, when imbibed by the Dean, sends him back to a
former life - as a dog.
Astounded by what he's seen, Fisk Junior soon finds himself on a quest to
secure more Tokay so that he can explore even deeper the reality of the Dean's
Dean Spanley is one of those films which will be given the label of quirky -
but to do so, is to simply dismiss its warmth and story.
Northam and Bryan Brown are good in their roles and O'Toole gives a sterling
performance as usual - his eyes sparkle with a cheeky cantankerous fire.
But it's Sam Neill whose performance steals this film.
Initially, his Dean Spanley seems a little aloof and wary of the Fisks - but
the more he imbibes the Tokay, it becomes clearer to the audience how much of
Neill's performance is channeling that of a pooch.
From the jowly beard to the whimpering noises he makes when he first sniffs
the wine, Neill embodies all the behaviours of a dog - but in a subtle and
Dean Spanley is a tale of fathers and sons, dogs and their masters - of
comradeship and relationships, this offbeat story will leave you with a
whimsical grin on your face.
Unfortunately this disc is lacking on extras which is a real shame - but
doesn't detract (too much) from the overall brilliance.