Dean Spanley Toa Fraser

Dean Spanley Toa Fraser
Sure to wet the panties of the bridge and knitting crowd, who will most certainly gasp when men of the cloth drink Imperial Tokay and other men exclaim "poppycock!” during discussions about reincarnation, Dean Spanley is the sort of film that one would expect the Queen of England to watch while acting coyly offended and hiding her inappropriately erect nipples.

It is a comedy of manners and oh-so-clever wordplay that reeks of Oscar Wilde smugness but settles for lengthy analyses of canine customs and thought processes. Limited scope and sincere emotions give it a nudge towards copasetic regardless of being entirely forgettable and often self-righteous.

Set in Edwardian England, the film follows Fisk Junior (Jeremy Northam) as he seeks spiritual meaning despite some nay saying from his outspoken curmudgeon of a father, Fisk Senior (Peter O’Toole). His quest leads him to a discussion of reincarnation involving the souls of dogs and cats, where he meets Dean Spanley (Sam Neill), a man who appears to have some pearls of wisdom about the nature of closed-mindedness and the meaning of life.

Knowing that the Dean is a fan — to an uncomfortably sexual degree — of Imperial Tokay, a rare form of wine, Fisk Junior enlists his friend Wrather (Brian Brown) to find him the desired beverage in order to bribe Dean Spanley into accompanying him to a dinner. Once some Tokay is ingested by the man of God, he reveals details of his past life as a dog.

A great deal of time is spent exploring in detail the motivations behind the behaviour of a dog, which when all is revealed (to mildly inappropriate amusement) makes a little bit of sense but seems somewhat imbalanced considering the true emotional catharsis of the film, involving the loss of a child in wartime.

Within the film is a more interesting and ironic examination of a son whose spiritual quest becomes redundant when he discovers that the wisdom he was looking for existed in his father, whom he ignored and dismissed. (Alliance)