Dean Spanley

Dean Spanley is a 2008 British comedy drama film, with fantastic elements, from Miramax, Atlantic Film Group (UK) and General Film Corporation (NZ), directed by Fijian New Zealander Toa Fraser. Set in Edwardian England, the film is based on an Alan Sharp adaptation of Irish author Lord Dunsany's 1936 novella My Talks with Dean Spanley. It stars Sam Neill as the Dean, Jeremy Northam and Peter O'Toole as Fisk Junior and Fisk Senior respectively and Bryan Brown as Wrather.

Dean Spanley
Dean Spanley
UK quad format cinema poster
Directed byToa Fraser
Produced byMatthew Metcalfe
Alan Harris
Screenplay byAlan Sharp
Based onMy Talks with Dean Spanley
by Lord Dunsany
StarringJeremy Northam
Peter O'Toole
Sam Neill
Bryan Brown
Judy Parfitt
Dudley Sutton
Music byDon McGlashan
CinematographyLeon Narbey
Edited byChris Plummer
NZ Film Commission
Atlantic Film Group
General Film Corporation
Lipsync Productions
Distributed byIcon Entertainment International (UK)
Transmission (NZ)
Miramax (US)
TWC (international)
Release date
  • 6 September 2008 (Toronto)
  • 12 December 2008 (UK)
  • 26 February 2009 (NZ)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$15 million


The narrative is called "a surreal period comedic tale of canine reincarnation exploring the relationships between father and son and master and dog".[1] Peter O'Toole said that the film's use of comedy to explore the relationship between a father and son was part of the attraction for him: "All of us have had these difficult familial relationships and I think it's a film for all of us who understand the relationship between a father and son. It's been interesting watching how various members of the crew have been looking at the monitors during scenes, because they come up to me and say, 'I had the same thing with my father.'"


In the very early 1900s, Henslowe Fisk lives beholden to his father, the difficult Horatio Fisk. The Fisk family has suffered first the loss of its younger son, Harrington Fisk (Xavier Horan), killed in the Second Anglo-Boer War, shortly followed by the death of Horatio's wife. Fisk Senior is looked after by his housekeeper Mrs Brimley (Judy Parfitt) who has lost her husband. Fisk Junior reluctantly visits his father every Thursday.

One day, trying to entertain his father, Fisk Junior takes him to a lecture by a visiting swami (Art Malik) about the transmigration of souls. The lecture is also attended by the new local clergyman, Dean Spanley (Sam Neill).

Later the same day Fisk Junior encounters the Dean at his father's club. A chance third meeting leads to an introduction. Fisk Junior, initially intrigued by the Dean's oddly open-minded views on reincarnation, is prompted to look beyond the Dean's appearance (that of an affable, rather bland clergyman) by his weakness for certain peculiar sensations produced by Hungarian Imperial Tokay wine, which leads him into a dreamlike state. Working with his clever friend Wrather (Bryan Brown), an Australian "conveyancer", Fisk secures a batch of Tokay and the two entertain the Dean, who acts ever more strangely, starting to reveal memories of his previous life — as a Welsh Spaniel. These memories are acute and convincing, including rich feelings around food and communication with other canines, a deep distaste for cats and pigs, and the joy of serving his master. As the story unfolds, Fisk Junior comes to understand his father's background better and the two draw closer. There is a sub-plot concerning Fisk Senior's childhood that receives an unexpected resolution forming the climax of the story.




The novella was optioned from the Dunsany Will Trust through Curtis Brown of London by Alan Sharp.[2] Support for the production came from both English (Screen East) and New Zealand (NZ Film Commission) government agencies, with financing completed by Aramid Entertainment, General Film Corporation and Lipsync Productions. Both producers, the director, some of the lead cast (Neill was born in Northern Ireland but is associated with New Zealand), the cinematographer, the editor, the composer and a number of other members of the production crew and cast are from New Zealand.


The adapted screenplay was written by Alan Sharp, with clearance from the Dunsany Literary Estate. Trevor Johnston has written, "If you read the original story before seeing the film ..., then see the film, what’s striking is that Sharp has not so much effected an adaptation as a reinvention."[3]


Principal filming began at Wisbech in Cambridgeshire (including Wisbech Castle and Peckover House) on 10 November 2007, continuing for some weeks and taking in the heritage area of the Crescent, the Castle and the museum. It continued at Holkham Hall in Norfolk[4] and Elveden Hall in Suffolk, once home to and remodelled for the last Maharajah of Punjab in the years just before the film's setting. Elm Hill in Norwich and the cloisters at Norwich Cathedral were also used.[5][6] Further filming took place in New Zealand.


The movie was shot on 16 mm film and digitally, in 1:1.85 ratio, using Arri 416 and D-20 cameras, with digital intermediate post-production by Lipsync Productions.[7]


An original soundtrack was composed by New Zealand composer Don McGlashan. A soundtrack CD was released in New Zealand on Warner Music (NZ) 5186531802 consisting of 14 tracks and a running time of 41:05. Background choir music was provided by the 30-voice New Zealand choir Musica Sacra.[8]

Release and reception

Ahead of general release, Dean Spanley was shown twice at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a red-carpet gala premiere, the first New Zealand production ever to do so.[9] It also had two showings at the London Film Festival, and was also shown at the largest film festival in Asia, the Pusan International.

The United Kingdom general release was announced by Icon Distribution for 12 December, and a "U" classification issued by the British Board of Film Classification.[10] In Ireland it was certified "G" and was released on the same date. The film was certified in Australia as "G" also, and was released 5 March 2009, and in New Zealand 26 February 2009; distribution in both Australia and New Zealand was by Paramount.

In early November, the film was offered to United States distributors at the annual American Film Market (5–12 November), with two showings announced, and in early February 2009, Miramax bought the United States rights.[11] However, rather than opening in theatres in the U.S., it went straight to cable.

A region-2 DVD was released in 2009.[12] A region-1 DVD was released in 2010.[13]

The novella, out of print for some years, was re-issued from HarperCollins in 2008. It included the film screenplay, set photos, publicity stills and interviews and comments from the cast, director, producers and crew members.

Critical response

Receiving a standing ovation at the gala premiere, initial commentary was positive (per reviews at and elsewhere), with particular praise for O'Toole's performance and the final "act".

Reviews were generally positive, Rotten Tomatoes website gives the film a rating of 85% "fresh" based on 26 reviews. The critical consensus describes the film as "Offbeat, whimsical, period-set shaggy dog story with daffy performances from Sam Neill and Peter O’Toole."[14]

Dean Spanley was longlisted for the 2009 British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards for Adapted Screenplay (Alan Sharp) and Supporting Actor (Peter O'Toole).[15]


  1. ^ Village Film Festival
  2. ^ Margaret Pomeranz speaking with Sam Neill. "Dean Spanley Interview". At the Movies. Season 6. Episode 4. 4 March 2009.
  3. ^ Johnston, Trevor (13 January 2009). "Dean Spanley". The Script Factory. Archived from the original on 13 August 2010. Retrieved 21 October 2010. Trevor Johnston is a film critic for Time Out London.
  4. ^ Joe Utichi (29 January 2008). "Exclusive: RT Visits the Set of Dean Spanley. We talk the transmigration of souls with Peter O'Toole and Sam Neill". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. p. 2.
  5. ^ Norwich, Norfolk: 18 December 2007, Norwich Evening News (Kate Scotter)
  6. ^ Wisbech, Cambs: The Fenland Citizen, 21 November 2007: Hollywood Comes to Wisbech
  7. ^ IMDb Technical Specifications for Dean Spanley
  8. ^ "Musica Sacra records for film score". Film Score. Musica Sacra (Auckland). Archived from the original on 25 May 2010.
  9. ^ "Toronto Gala world premiere for Dean Spanley".
  10. ^ "DEAN SPANLEY rated U by the BBFC". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 20 March 2012.
  11. ^ Miramax buys US rights to Dean Spanley
  12. ^ Dean Spanley (DVD). Icon Home Entertainment. 27 April 2009.
  13. ^ "Dean Spanley".
  14. ^ Rotten Tomatoes: Dean Spanley Accessed 10 May 2010
  15. ^ Alt Film Guide

External links

2009 Adelaide Film Festival

The 4th Adelaide Film Festival took place in Adelaide, Australia, from 19 February to 1 March 2009. Katrina Sedgwick was again Festival Director. Jan Chapman received the 2009 Don Dunstan Award The poster this year depicts the iconic film festival eye character concept that was so successful in 2007.The festival opened with My Year Without Sex directed by Sarah Watt and closed with Easy Virtue directed by Stephan Elliott. The festival presented 23 world premieres, 62 Australian premieres, 38 Australian films, 9 new Australian features from established and emerging filmmakers, and 143 films from over 49 countries. The Natuzzi International Award for Best Feature Film was won by the South Korean film Treeless Mountain, directed and written by So Yong Kim.

2009 Qantas Film and Television Awards

The 2009 Qantas Film and Television Awards were held on Saturday 5 September at the Civic Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand. The craft awards were presented in a separate awards lunch at the Civic Theatre Friday 4 September. Highlights from the main awards evening were broadcast on TV3.

Alan Sharp

Alan Sharp (12 January 1934 – 8 February 2013) was a Scottish novelist and screenwriter. He published two novels in the 1960s, and subsequently wrote the screenplays for about twenty films, mostly produced in the United States.

Barbara Wilshere

Barbara Edith Eileen Wilshere (born 7 December 1959 in South Africa) is a British actress who has appeared in theatre, films and television.

Bryan Brown

Bryan Neathway Brown, AM (born 23 June 1947) is an Australian actor. He has performed in over eighty film and television projects since the late 1970s, both in his native Australia and abroad. Notable films include Breaker Morant (1980), Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984), F/X (1986), Cocktail (1988), Gorillas in the Mist (1988), F/X2 (1991), Along Came Polly (2004), Australia (2008), Kill Me Three Times (2014) and Gods of Egypt (2016). He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award for his performance in the television miniseries The Thorn Birds (1983).

Elveden Hall

Elveden Hall is a large stately home on the Elveden Estate in Elveden, Suffolk, England. The seat of the Earls of Iveagh, it is a Grade II* listed building. It is located centrally to the village and is close to the A11 and the Parish Church. Currently owned by Arthur Edward Rory Guinness, 4th Earl of Iveagh.

Finola Dwyer

Finola Dwyer (born 10 July 1963) is a UK-based New Zealand film producer and editor, best known for her films An Education and Brooklyn, produced with frequent collaborator Amanda Posey.

Jeremy Northam

Jeremy Philip Northam (born 1 December 1961) is an English actor. After a number of television roles, he earned attention as Mr. Knightley in the 1996 film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. He has appeared in the films Gosford Park, Amistad, The Winslow Boy, Enigma, Martin and Lewis, amongst others. He also played Thomas More in the Showtime series The Tudors. From 2016 to 2017 he appeared as Anthony Eden in the Netflix series The Crown.

Judy Parfitt

Judy Catherine Claire Parfitt (born 7 November 1935) is an English theatre, film and television actress. She made her film debut in a minor supporting part in Information Received (1961), followed by supporting role in the BBC television serial David Copperfield (1966). She also appeared as Queen Gertrude in Tony Richardson's 1969 film adaptation of Hamlet.

Later credits include as Vera Donovan in the Stephen King film adaptation of Dolores Claiborne (1995), and in Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003), the latter for which she earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Beginning in 2012, Parfitt has starred on the drama series Call the Midwife as Sister Monica Joan.

Leon Narbey

Leon Gordon Alexander Narbey (born 2 August 1947) is a New Zealand cinematographer.

Born in Helensville, Narbey was educated at the Elam School of Fine Arts, specialising in sculpture. He lectured at the University of Canterbury in 1972, before joining the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation as a news cameraman. In the mid-1970s, he shot the Geoff Steven documentary Te Matakite o Aotearoa, about the 1975 Māori land march. He continued his partnership with Steven on two documentaries shot in China in 1979: Gung Ho (about Rewi Alley) and The Humble Force.He co-wrote and directed two films, Illustrious Energy and The Footstep Man, in 1987 and 1992 respectively. In 1990, he shot the comedy-drama Ruby and Rata for Gaylene Preston. In 1993, he was director of photography on the feature film Desperate Remedies, for which he won the Best Cinematography award at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards in 1994.His recent work includes the 2000 romantic drama The Price of Milk, the 2002 drama Whale Rider, No. 2 (2006), the 2007 vampire film Perfect Creature, 2008's Dean Spanley and Rain of the Children, the 2009 Topp Twins documentary The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, the 2011 Samoan film The Orator, the 2013 drama Giselle, The Dead Lands in 2014 and the 2016 film One Thousand Ropes.

List of awards and nominations received by Peter O'Toole

This is a list of awards and nominations received by Anglo-Irish stage and film actor Peter O'Toole.

London Film Critics Circle Awards 2008

The 29th London Film Critics Circle Awards, honouring the best in film for 2008, were announced by the London Film Critics Circle on 4 February 2009.

Nick Shaw

Nick Shaw is an independent film maker and background artist.

He is known for his direction, writing and editing of the independent, fair trade film, Bananas Unpeeled, highlighting the plight of plantation workers in Central America and the Caribbean, with an introduction by political activist and comedian, Mark Thomas.

In 1988, he was commissioned by the Arts Council of England to produce a feature documentary on the singer-songwriter, Ted Hawkins. Although the documentary was never released, some of the footage appears in the 1996 film Ted Hawkins: Amazing Grace.

Recently he has worked on Dean Spanley, Princess Ka'iulani, Malice in Wonderland, and Series III of Kingdom. In 2010 he worked on Hugo for Martin Scorsese. Filming in 3D at Shepperton Studios took over six months to complete, and will be released in December 2011. Also in 2010 he appears in the Ealing Film Studios comedy Burke and Hare,as a barman for director John Landis.

He has worked for various NGO's. Both with Greenpeace during the farm trial evaluations of genetically modified crops, and with Christian Aid, gathering testimonial evidence to complaints from the local diocese in Central America.

Earlier in his life, he was a freelance stills photographer, commissioned on board various Soviet cruise ships, including MS Azerbaihzan and SS Maxim Gorkiy. He later worked in New York City as a freelance stills photographer.

Peckover House and Garden

Peckover House & Garden is a National Trust property located in North Brink, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England.

Peter O'Toole

Peter Seamus O'Toole (; 2 August 1932 – 14 December 2013) was a British stage and film actor of Irish descent. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and began working in the theatre, gaining recognition as a Shakespearean actor at the Bristol Old Vic and with the English Stage Company before making his film debut in 1959.

He achieved international recognition playing T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) for which he received his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He was nominated for this award another seven times – for Becket (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class (1972), The Stunt Man (1980), My Favorite Year (1982), and Venus (2006) – and holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations for acting without a win. In 2002, O'Toole was awarded the Academy Honorary Award for his career achievements. He was additionally the recipient of four Golden Globe Awards, one British Academy Film Award and one Primetime Emmy Award.

Sam Neill

Nigel John Dermot "Sam" Neill (born 14 September 1947) is a New Zealand actor, writer, producer, director, and vineyard owner. Born in Omagh, Northern Ireland, he moved to Christchurch with his family in 1954. Neill first achieved recognition with his appearance in the 1977 film Sleeping Dogs, which he followed with leading roles in My Brilliant Career (1979), Omen III: The Final Conflict, Possession (both 1981), A Cry in the Dark (1988), Dead Calm (1989), and The Piano (1993). He came to international prominence with his portrayal of Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park (1993), reprising the role in 2001's Jurassic Park III.

Neill's other films include The Hunt for Red October (1990), Sirens; In the Mouth of Madness; The Jungle Book (all 1994), Snow White: A Tale of Terror, Event Horizon (both 1997), The Horse Whisperer (1998), Bicentennial Man (1999), The Dish (2000), Yes, Wimbledon (both 2004), Daybreakers (2009), Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010), The Hunter (2011), The Vow (2012), Escape Plan (2013), The Daughter (2015), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), The Commuter, and Peter Rabbit (both 2018).

Outside of film, Neill has appeared in numerous television series, such as Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983), Merlin (1998), The Tudors (2007), Crusoe (2008–10), Happy Town (2010), Alcatraz (2012), and Peaky Blinders (2013–14). He has also presented and narrated several documentaries.

Neill is the recipient of a New Zealand Film Award and a Logie Award, as well as three Golden Globe and two Primetime Emmy Award nominations. He lives in Queenstown and has three children and one stepchild.

Toa Fraser

Toa Fraser (born 1975) is a New Zealand born of Fijian heritage playwright and film director. His first feature film, No. 2, starring Ruby Dee won the Audience Award (World Dramatic) at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. His second, Dean Spanley, starring Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam and Peter O'Toole, premiered in September 2008. His third film Giselle was selected to be screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. His fourth, The Dead Lands, a Maori action-adventure film, was released in 2014.


Tokaji (Hungarian: of Tokaj Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈtokɒji]) or Tokay is the name of the wines from the Tokaj wine region (also Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region or Tokaj-Hegyalja) in Hungary or the adjoining Tokaj wine region in Slovakia. This region is noted for its sweet wines made from grapes affected by noble rot, a style of wine which has a long history in this region. The "nectar" coming from the grapes of Tokaj is also mentioned in the national anthem of Hungary.

The Slovak wine region of Tokaj may use the Tokajský/-á/-é label ("of Tokaj" in Slovak) if they apply the Hungarian quality control regulation. This area used to be part of the greater Tokaj-Hegyalja region within the Kingdom of Hungary, but was divided between Hungary and Czechoslovakia after the Treaty of Trianon.

Verses Dedicatory

Verses Dedicatory: 18 Previously Unpublished Poems is a collection of poetry by fantasy author Lord Dunsany, edited by Lin Carter. It was first published in paperback as a chapbook by Charnel House as no. 2 in The Charnel House Chapbooks Series in 1985.

The book collects eighteen poems hand-written by the author on the flyleaves of copies of several of his published books. The copies in which the poems were found and from which they were taken are from the library of Hazel Littlefield. The titles assigned the poems are those of the books in which they appear. The collection includes an introduction by the editor.

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