Peter O'Toole gives a scorching performance in this wonderfully eccentric comedy-drama. Set just after the turn of the last century and based on the novel by Baron Dunsany, it is peculiarly English. To relieve the tedium of their regular outings, distanced father and son, Horatio and Henslowe (O'Toole and Jeremy Northam) attend a lecture on the Transmigration of Souls by a visiting Hindu Swami. There, they meet Dean Spanley (Sam Neill), with whom, after a series of chance encounters, Henslowe strikes up a bizarre friendship.
At dinner he plies the Dean with a rare Hungarian wine, the Imperial Tokay, secured from colonial rogue trader, Wrather (Bryan Brown). In return, Spanley hales forth trance-like reminiscences of a highly unexpected former life. A pre-existence that may just hold the key to the family heartbreak that Horatio is trying to keep repressed.
The conversations are interesting and entertaining and, when Peter O'Toole turns up for a meal and becomes involved in the Dean's story, the film becomes quite moving, especially in the father finally acknowledging that one son has died and the other has devoted himself to him.
No special effects, no action sequences, just a delight for ear and eye, for the emotions and for the mind.