Taken from what is rapidly becoming one of my favourite periods of history, the late Victorian-Edwardian era, I read a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book and reviewed it in my post Victorian Spiritualism: Arthur & George. Soon after, and quite coincidentally, I saw the film Dean Spanley. I didn’t know of the Irish writer Lord Dunsany before and I had never heard of this slim novel written just before WW2.
Set in 1904, Dean Stanley was a rather bizarre story of a father-son relationship (Peter O'Toole & Jeremy Northam respectively) and some key people who touched their lives. Out of desperation at his father’s tetchy, critical behaviour, Fisk took his father to hear a lecture on spiritualism by Indian Swami Prash (Art Malik). There they met the peculiar Dean Spanley (Sam Neill) and a rough Australian called Wrather (Bryan Brown). Wrather could procure anything a soul might crave, if the money was right. Since what Dean Spanley craved was rare Hungarian golden dessert wine Tokay, that is what Fisk paid for.
Fisk Snr and Jnr at the lecture on spiritualism
The film's most important scene was a formal dinner for the 4 men, well lubricated by Tokay. In the semi-gloom around the dinner table, a drunken Dean “revealed amazing and cathartic connections from the past” that eventually intrigued the group. As a result of the group’s relationship, the father-son’s own emotional relationship was changed forever. The NZHerald thought Dean Spanley was a sweet, if somewhat sticky, tale of redemption and friendships renewed – somewhat like the Tokay. But more importantly for me, The NZHerald also thought the script made the absurd vaguely coherent.
But dream-like perceptions and drunken memories of some imagined past are not much to hang a film on. I was very interested in these educated men, living quite formal and prescriptive lives, becoming involved in spiritualism. broadcastellan blog wrote in Best in Show: Dean Spanley as Out-of-Homebody Experience that film was actually inspired by My Talks with Dean Spanley, a casual, witty discourse on reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. Even with the excruciating pain of having lost a son in the Boer War, why didn’t Fisk Snr simply refuse to go along with the irrationality of it all?
A Persistent Vision blog in Dean Spanley (2008) (SIFF 2009) put it down to a strange, wonderful clash of the absurd and coherent. I presume that meant that proper Victorian-Edwardian gentlemen could deal with rationality and spiritualism concurrently, and not see anything strange about the two themes. There seems to be no other explanation that I can see.