Period Pieces and Barbara Kingsolver

Welcome once more to the Friday review, the post where I review items of note encountered on my escapades in the world of the arts.  This week, Dean Spanley and The Lacuna.

Dean Spanley

UK quad format cinema poster

a film directed by Toa Frazier

written by Alan Sharp and based on My Talks with Dean Spanley by Lord Dunsany

starring Jeremy Northam, Sam Neil, Bryan Brown, and Peter O’Toole

Fans of British period pieces who have never seen Dean Spanley really ought to watch it, because in one sentence, that’s what it is.  However, while it is complete with early 20-th century costumes and energetic violin music, another reason to watch it is what distinguishes it from the crowd: its bizarre and amusing plot.  It at least deserves applause for stepping out on a limb while managing to be a very entertaining 100 minutes.

At first glance, it’s a tale of Horatio Fisk (Peter O’Toole) and his son (Jeremy Northam)’s strained relationship and misunderstandings of each other.  But soon Young Fisk meets Dean Spanley, an eccentric clergyman who over dinner one night begins to act and speak as though he thinks himself a dog.

The mystery of Dean Spanley’s actions moves Fisk to invite him to dinner numerous times; the dean is not too hard to convince as long as Fisk has a bottle of imperial Tockay wine, the dean’s favorite drink.  (Fisk’s endeavors to obtain the obscure vintage make a humorous addition to the plot.  I can no longer say the word Tockay without smiling.)

Honestly, I can’t even mention the name Dean Spanley without smiling.  The humorous elements of the movie blend well with the drama.  The conclusion was touching and Sam Neil’s acting as the dog-minded dean is exceptional.  The film’s use of the concept of reincarnation doesn’t force that belief on the viewer.  In short, Dean Spanley may not have had a deep, awe-inspiring message, but it was utterly enjoyable, and I am glad I watched it.

Dean Spanley


The Lacuna

First edition

a novel by Barbara Kingsolver

Harper ($26.99)

Among the works of historical fiction I have read, none can parallel the attention to detail and well-paced plot of The Lacuna.  It is the intimate and fascinating life story of an author named Harrison Shepherd, from his boyhood in Mexico, his origins as a writer, his encounters with Lev Trotsky, and his eventual career as a novelist which sails him from the heights of fame to the depths of obloquy.

I especially admired that the interactions between Shepherd and the historical personages of Diego Rivera and Lev Trotsky never seemed contrived or coincidental.  Kingsolver’s method of telling the tale through a heterogeneous but never disjointed collection of letters, journals, and newspaper clippings is adept, and allows her to use the character of Shepher’s stenographer to great effect.  Additionally, she makes sure to use the theme of the book, the lacuna, the gap, to tie everything together.

It is, I must say, the most interesting book I have ever had to read for history class.  If you are looking for an intellectual, well-written, and intricate book to kick off your summer reading, look no further.

The Lacuna



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