Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Dean Spanley" with Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown (2008)

Peter O'Toole may have outdone even himself in this richly textured tale set in the early days of 20th Century England. Fisk, Sr. has lost his son in the Boer War and has never grieved that loss. His wife has died of a broken heart and he lives alone with the widowed housekeeper. He is a reticent and stern sort of man, strictly adhering to a schedule. His reaction to those who lament his loss is usually along the lines of, "My loss? I haven't lost anything. It was my son that died. I'm still here."

His younger son, Fisk, Jr., played by Jeremy Northham, visits punctually and regularly, but there is clearly no love lost between the two. They simply do not understand one another. When Fisk, Jr. takes his father to a lecture on the Transmigration of Souls, his father declares it all to be "poppycock." It is at this lecture that the elder Mr. Fisk, along with his son, meets Reverend Spanley, played with great sensitivity by Sam Neill, who is studying the subject of reincarnation. He seems to be in earnest to learn all he can about the subject, which only serves to pique the younger Mr. Fisks curiosity.

When leaving the lecture, Fisk, Jr. encounters Wrather, played by Bryan Brown, a man known to be a conveyer, that is, someone who can get things which are hard to come by. In this case, the younger Mr. Fisk wants a bottle of Hungarian Tokay, a wine formerly reserved for Kings. With this bottle he begins to befriend the Reverend, unlocking the secrets of his past life.

At subsequent Thursday night meetings, always with a rare bottle of Tokay, the Reverend begins to open up and reveals that he was a dog in a past life. When the younger Mr. Fisk reveals this to the conveyor, the man is transfixed and manages to become a part of these Thursday night meetings. Eventually, the elder Mr. Fisk joins them, just in time for the Reverend to reveal his entire story, which has a great effect upon the elder Mr. Fisk.

Retreating from the dinner table he is found weeping in the hallway by the housekeeper. The Reverend's experiences have somehow made it possible for him to feel once again.

This movie is almost impossible to review with any kind of justice. It is remarkably filmed, scripted, directed and performed. I will need to return to this film again in order to fully understand the meaning of the story as it concerns each character, since they, like we ourselves, are all connected in some way. In this first viewing I have remained focused on Peter O'Toole's character.

Mr. O'Toole has made many a film, some of them have been brilliant, and some have been disappointing. But none have called forth the depth of acting required of the role he plays here.

With a fascinating story by Lord Dunsany, written for the screen by Alan Sharp, and brilliantly directed by Toa Fraser, this film was a wonderful surprise with a meaningful message.

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