Dean Spanley (PG)
Set in England in the aftermath of the Boer War, Horatio Fisk (Peter O’Toole) is an elderly widower mourning the death in the war of his elder son and of his wife soon afterwards. He is selfish, embittered and unappreciative of his surviving younger son Henslowe (Jeremy Northam) who dutifully visits him every week. He is looked after by his housekeeper, played by the splendid Judy Parfitt.
During one visit, desperate for a way to pass the time, father and son attend a lecture given by a visiting swami on the transmigration of souls. They meet briefly a cleric, Dean Spanley (Sam Neill) and a sharp Australian ‘fixer’, who’ll source anything you want – for a price. Henslowe bumps into Dean Spanley again and over dinner and under the influence of a bottle of Hungarian Tokay, Spanley tells/relives a story of reincarnation. Henslowe slowly realises that his story has a connection to his own family and persuades his father to join them.
This is a charming story, quirky and staying the right side of sentimentality – perhaps because it was not made in Hollywood! – and beautifully acted. Peter O’Toole is quoted as saying that it was the use of comedy to explore the relationship between a father and son that partly attracted him to the film. He remarked: “All of us had difficult familial relationships. I think it’s a film for all of us who understand the relationship between a father and son. It’s been interesting watching various members of the crew looking at the monitors during scenes. They come up to me then and say, ‘I had the same thing with my father.’”
Cast: Jeremy Northam, Judy Parfitt, Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill, Art Malik, Bryan Brown, Ramon Tikaram
Toa Fraser | New Zealand/UK | 2008 | 96 minutes | PG
Weighted vote 87.8%