Icon Films has signed for the highly imaginative and whimsical period film after seeing it last month at the world premiere in Toronto.

Kathleen Drumm, head of sales agent New Zealand Film, says an offer for US rights is on the table but won't elaborate.

Drumm negotiated the deal with head of legal and business affairs, Phil Rymer, and Icon Films president Mark Gooder has already decided on a December release, which will make it eligible for the 2009 BAFTA Awards in February. The UK/NZ co-production has just played at Pusan and London Film Festival audiences have two chances of seeing it at the end of this week.

'The audience at Toronto warmed to the subtleties of the script and performances and we feel British audiences will feel the same way. It's a very entertaining movie,' said Gooder.

Peter O'Toole, who is now in his mid-70s, plays a cranky conservative widower in Edwardian England. He fails to connect with his only remaining child (Jeremy Northam) until a strange clergyman (Sam Neill) called Dean Spanley comes along.

Director Toa Fraser's second film also features Bryan Brown as a con-artist from the colonies and Art Malik, an Indian mystic. The film was written by Alan Sharp (Rob Roy) by a Baron Dunsany novella of the 1960s. Fraser's debut film, the family drama No.2, won the 2006 world cinema Sundance Audience Prize.

Dean Spanley was produced by Matthew Metcalfe and Alan Harris, with David Parfitt, Finola Dwyer, Simon Fawcett and Sharp acting as executive producers. A book celebrating the film is due for publication by Harper Collins before Christmas.