Friday, October 17, 2008

London Film Festival Day 3 - DEAN SPANLEY

DEAN SPANLEY is a beautifully acted and cleverly written costume drama about coming to terms with grief and re-establishing familial relations. Peter O'Toole plays an Edwardian stick-in-the-mud who refuses to mourn his elder son's death in the Boer War. The subsequent death of his wife, which his younger son (Jeremy Northam) partly blames him for, reduces their relationship to one of cynical mocking on the part of Fisk Senior and deferential routine on the part of Fisk Junior.

This stagnant relationship is transformed when Fisk Junior cultivates a friendship with an eccentric clergyman called Dean Spanley (Sam Neil). The Dean apparently believes in reincarnation and, when plied with a rare Hungarian digestif, will unconsciously drift into his past life. The skill of DEAN SPANLEY is that its subject matter is patently absurd and yet the poker straight performance of Sam Neil in the title role and the reactions from Northam and O'Toole completely sell it to us. However the fact that the film takes so long to patiently create a credible platform for the final revelation makes the first hour of this film desperately slow moving, and does rather call into question whether the final emotional pay-off was worth the wait.

DEAN SPANLEY played Toronto and London 2008.

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