Films & Schedules

  • Dean Spanley

  • Toa Fraser

United Kingdom/New Zealand
100 minutes

Production Company:
General Film Corporation/Atlantic Film Group
Executive Producer:
Simon Fawcett, Finola Dwyer, David Parfitt, Alan Sharp
Alan Harris, Mathew Metcalfe
Alan Sharp, based on the novel My Talks With Dean Spanley by Lord Dunsany
Production Designer:
Andrew McAlpine
Leon Narbey
Chris Plummer
Tony Dawe
Don McGlashan
Principal Cast: Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Peter O'Toole

Canadian Distributor:
Alliance Films
International Sales Agent:
NZ Film

Saturday September 0601:30PM ROY THOMSON HALL Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Sunday September 0712:30PM WINTER GARDEN THEATRE Best Bet Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

Featuring a career-capping performance by Peter O'Toole and a magical mélange of fine wine, canines and eccentric behaviour, Dean Spanley is a rare pleasure. Based on the book by Lord Dunsany and adapted for the screen by Alan Sharp, the film transports us to Edwardian England, with its elegant rooms, lavish costumes and surprising tolerance for the outlandish.

Young Fisk (Jeremy Northam) lives in thrall to his curmudgeonly father, Fisk Senior (deliciously played by O'Toole). As a gambit to entertain the old man, Fisk junior takes dad along to a lecture by a visiting swami all about the transmigration of souls. At the lecture, and then twice again the same day, Young Fisk spies the district's new clergyman, Dean Spanley (Sam Neill). Finagling an introduction, he becomes intrigued, first by the Dean's surprisingly open-minded views on reincarnation, then by his weakness for certain peculiar sensations. Hungarian Tokay wine produces the most remarkable shivers of pleasure in the Dean, and launches him into the strangest of reveries.

With the support of his resourceful friend Wrather (Bryan Brown), Young Fisk is able to procure a large quantity of the finest Tokay, and the two men continue to wine and dine (but mostly wine) the progressively stranger Dean. As the scent and taste of the wine take their effect, the Dean begins to reveal memories of his previous life – as a dog. He recalls the keen thrill of communicating with other dogs, his utter disdain for the feline race and the exquisite joy of serving his master.

It takes the finest comedic actors to pull off this material, and director Toa Fraser has assembled a cast of the first rank. Neill treads with grace between comic fantasy and real pathos, Northam brings a grounded curiosity to a pivotal role and O'Toole emerges as the soul of the film. Portraying a man who can see the end before him and his life's losses behind him with equal, painful clarity, O'Toole finds precisely the right note of knowing, hard-won wit.

Toa Fraser was born in Britain and graduated from the University of Auckland. He is a playwright and feature filmmaker. He co-wrote the screenplay for the film River Queen (05) and made his filmmaking debut with No.2 (06). Dean Spanley (08) is his second feature film.

Cadillac People's Choice Award