15 December, 2013

RIP Peter O'Toole -- Dean Spanley

With the passing of the wonderful actor and iconic film star Peter O'Toole, rather than adding to the plethora of appreciations of his career, I'd like to draw attention to one of his best but largely unseen performances in the light period comedy Dean Spanley.

One of O'Toole's final major roles, and the last for which he garnered professional recognition (Best Supporting Actor, a win from New Zealand Film and TV Awards, and nominations from Irish Film and Television Awards and the London Critics Circle Film Awards). He is joined in a pitch perfect ensemble by Jeremy Northam, Sam Elliot, Bryan Brown and Judy Parfitt.

Northam plays a dutiful son to O'Toole's crabbed father still in unrelenting mourning for his other son fallen in the Boer Wars. Eliot plays the titular vicar with whom Northam, abetted by convivial fixer Brown, engages in increasingly bizarre conversations.

I want to recommend this highly and could wax lyrical at length, however, there's a conundrum, I want to tell you as little about the film as possible. Its underlying fantastic conceit is so slight and delicate that it might be shattered by description. As a piece of Edwardiana, it borders dangerously on twee. The result however is a gentle comedy which speaks to the relationship between man and dog, and father and son.

Whilst the acting is brilliant all around, O'Toole's performance seals the deal, and the scene in which a dawning realization transforms his character also transforms this curate's egg of a comedy into a genuinely moving statement.  Not a bad note in this one of O'Toole's swan songs.



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