'Spanley' wins rave reviews from critics

By Joanna Hunkin

Toa Fraser's new film has been hailed as a heart-warming Christmas treat in Britain, where the film opened last weekend.

Starring Oscar-nominee Peter O'Toole and New Zealand's Sam Neill, Dean Spanley has been praised by Britain's film critics as a delightfully eccentric tale.

Both the Observer newspaper and the Mirror singled the feature out as their Film of the Week, with Observer critic Philip French commending the film for being "immaculately acted, carefully skirting whimsy, and nicely located within its period".

The film has already garnered O'Toole a best supporting actor nomination for next year's Critics' Circle Awards in London and his name is reported to be included on the 2009 Bafta voting papers.

Funded in part by the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), the film has been the subject of much controversy as media watchers have questioned whether the commission should be funding non-New Zealand stories.

Set in Edwardian England, Dean Spanley is based on the 1936 novella by Irish writer Lord Dunsany, and tells the curious tale of a church dean (Neill) who is transported back to his past life as a dog, whenever he drinks the Hungarian sweet wine Imperial Tokay.

Partly shot in New Zealand, the film cost $15 million to produce, $3 to $4 million of which is believed to have come from the NZFC.

In addition to Fraser and Neill, the film featured several other Kiwis in key creative roles.

Earlier this year, producer Matthew Metcalfe said it was a shining example of what New Zealanders could achieve and should be celebrated.

The film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where it received a standing ovation during the gala premiere, and will open here on February 26.

- NZ Herald

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