Dean Spanley

Charming drama finds Sam Neill going barking mad

Based on one of the lesser known works by writer and dramatist Edward Plunkett (better known as fantasy pioneer Lord Dunsany), this delightful shaggy dog story deals with an eccentric cleric who believes he had a past life as a canine. Set in the early years of the 20th century, the movie stars Jeremy Northam as Henslowe Fisk, a young man forced every Thursday to pay a visit to his cranky father Horatio (Peter O’Toole). The latter has closed himself off from the world since the death of his other son during the Boer War and the passing of his wife soon after.

After visiting a lecture on 'The Transmigration of Souls', the two Fisks make the acquaintance of the film’s titular dean (Sam Neill). Inviting him to their home, the Fisks are shocked when Spanley drifts into a trance and starts to relate his life as a dog. Is Spanley living proof that the souls of loved ones carry on when they pass, or is he just barking mad? Deliberately old-fashioned and feeling rather stage-bound by its minimal locations, Dean Spanley is a charming film full of subtle nuance and wonderfully layered performances.

While visually little more exciting than a handsomely shot BBC period drama, the film still has a chance to shine thanks to the DVD’s anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Audio is offered in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo incarnations, and in all honesty there’s very little difference between them with the exception of enhanced atmospherics in the former. The disc also features a reasonable set of extras including a short 15min Making of… featurette, plus interviews with director Toa Fraser and actors Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam and Bryan Brown.

Icon Home Entertainment, R2 DVD, £18 each, On sale now