The Anteroom of Eternity

"Remarkable events often have ordinary beginnings. Never was this more true than with my talks with Dean Spanley."

The movie Dean Spanley is a tale of forgiveness, transcendence and reconciliation. Every Thursday, Henslowe Fisk makes his way through the streets of London to visit his ancient, curmudgeonly and nihilistic father. The elder Fiske grumbles that his son's visits are a burden, and that the only thing special about a Thursday is to keep "Wednesday and Friday from colliding."

Fisk begins to wonder whether the time couldn't be spent in more enjoyable pursuits. At his next visit he insists that he and his father attend a lecture on reincarnation, held by a guru on his vast estate. The senior Fisk is skeptical: "Do you think if we had souls, they wouldn't get in touch? Of course they would!"

While at the lecture they meet a local vicar, Dean Spanley. He's an odd character who makes some intriguing comments about the possibility of an afterlife. Henslowe's curiosity prompts him to invite Spanley to dinner to discuss the topic further. He discovers that, plied with the right amount of wine, the Dean is given to telling fantastic stories of another, half-remembered life. After recounting one such tale, Spanley pauses to reflect, "One moment you are running along, the next you are no more." As time goes by, Henslowe realizes that these stories sound vaguely familiar, and may hold the key to a more enlightened relationship between Henslowe and his father.

The role of the elder Fisk is given Scrooge-like depth by Peter O'Toole, a valid reason on its own to watch this gem. Sam Neill's portrayal of the Dean is by turns hilarious and moving. Add wonderful dialog and the gorgeous Edwardian setting, and you'll find a movie that bears repeated watching. You'll have plenty of time to do so, if, as the guru insists, "You are, my dear sir, in the anteroom of eternity."