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Quirky tale is so charming.

EVERY dog has its day and in Toa Fraser's gently paced tale of fractious father-son bonding in Edwardian England, it's certainly a day to remember.

Adapted by Alan Sharp from Baron Dunsany's 1936 novella My Talks With Dean Spanley, this quixotic shaggy dog story will warm the cockles of your heart on the most bitterly cold winter's day.

Fraser's picture is an oddity and, in less accomplished hands, the characters' earnest deliberations of mortality might seem frivolous, even unintentionally amusing.

Yet the script strikes just the right tone, juxtaposing a menagerie of playful and earthy supporting characters with the wistful, central quartet, searching for answers to life's big questions.

Humour is broad, reserved predominantly for older protagonists, who speak their minds.

When a straight-talking housekeeper is asked if she believes in the transmigration of souls, she briefly considers the matter and responds: "I don't believe in letting foreigners in, if that's what you mean."

Setting the mood perfectly with its eye catching animated opening titles, Dean Spanley turns back the clock to early 20th Century London - a microcosm of etiquette.

Henslowe Fisk (Northam) makes his regular Thursday visit to his cantankerous father, Horatio (O'Toole), and desperately searches for a way to amuse the old man.

So he drags his father to an advertised lecture on the transmigration of souls, delivered by Swami Nala Prash (Malik).

Sitting in the audience, the two men spy Dean Spanley (Neill), who later reveals a connection to Fisk Senior's beloved dog, Wag.

Determined to learn more, Henslowe enlists help of conveyancer Wrather (Brown) to procure a bottle of the rare 1889 Imperial Tokay wine, which should lure the Dean to dinner.

Expectations are subverted over a series of Toky-soaked conversations, building to a big emotional release reflected in O'Toole's twinkling eyes, that sweeps us up in the moment.

DEAN SPANLEY

(U, 100 mins) Comedy/Drama. Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Peter O'Toole, Judy Parfitt, Art Malik, Dudley Sutton, Ramon Tikaram. Director: Toa Fraser.

*****

CAPTION(S):

GREAT PERFORMANCE - Peter O'Toole is on form in this gentle-paced film which will provide a warm glow this Christmas
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 12, 2008
Words:350
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