I Capture the Castle
review by Elias Savada, 22 August 2003

This quirky, mildly charming British romantic drama with comedy is pulled from the same mind (Dodie Smith) that brought us the funnier, fantastical 101 Dalmatians, but it is decidedly closer in tone and style to the late John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm (1995), wherein a close-knit 1930s family perhaps is a little too crazy for their wealthier, and presumably saner, neighbors. Farm (which originated as a 1932 novel by Stella Gibbons), coined the phrase "There's something nasty in the woodshed," whereas Castle's unspoken secrets lay upstairs with a recalcitrant father/author in the locked turret of a derelict fort that he and his family care take of. Each film each features a stunningly beautiful actress that bear a passing resemblance to one other: Kate Beckinsale and Tara Fitzgerald.

Beyond the obvious comparisons, both films are immensely watchable. I Capture the Castle is filled with some genuine golden moments from director Tim Fywell (a television director for the last dozen years now making his theatrical feature debut), writer Heidi Thomas (also making her inaugural switch from TV) and producer David Parfitt (Shakespeare in Love), but unfortunately, this small nugget has gone overlooked during this summer of cinematic discontent. The horrific Gigli made nearly twice as much money on its opening day as I Capture the Castle has grossed during its ongoing U.S. run. Of course, if the film is only playing in a handful of theaters, it boils down to how well funded the marketing campaign is to alert potential patrons there are choices such as Castle in the marketplace. The promotional budget for Gigli alone (negative costs were $54 million) dwarfs the entire cost of Castle. It's just so disheartening. This Samuel Goldwyn Films release played too briefly in the Washington, DC, market (where it opened in mid-July), but it is playing off in various regional markets (check at http://www.capturethecastlemovie.com/ if it's in your neighborhood).

Romola Garai, fresh from her performance as Nicholas Nickleby's sister in last year's surprisingly stimulating adaptation, takes center stage as the seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, who narrates the back story of her family's eager, momentarily enchanting, move into a Suffolk castle (although filmed on the Isle of Man) a decade earlier, as caretakers, and their eventual decline as father (Bill Nighy), a successful novelist, suffers through an extended, twelve-year case of writer's block. Cassie, plain in appearance, drab in dress, but noble in spirit and possessed of passion, tries to maintain the financially-challenged family, whose fortune now borders on destitution. She, her older, irresponsible sister Rose (a flaming redhead played by Australian beauty Rose Byrne), a younger brother Thomas (Joe Sowerbutts, but looking more like Harry Potter), and Topaz, their ditsy Bohemian stepmother (Tara Fitzgerald, who cuts her own impressive figure) are forced to react to the "unmitigated gloom" of the situation, as so described by Cassie in her journals. Stephen (Henry Cavill), a handsome handy boy aware of the family's dwindling resources, stays around as unpaid help to silently dote after Cassie.

Fate, naturally, comes after the death of Sir William, who owns the estate on which the castle is located, and the storm-drenched arrival of his two American grandsons: taciturn, educated Simon Cotton (Henry Thomas) and his younger, cowboyesque brother Neil (Marc Blucas), accompanying their now wealthy mother (Sinead Cusack). Two young, rich, eligible men. Two sweet young women anxious for mingling with them and an escape from their impoverished state. Love, rightly and wrongly, beckons as the foursome try to sort out their hormones and partners. Add in several additional layers of emotional, intellectual, and sexual foreplay involving more of the cast and all the parents (save the girls' mother, who was killed at her husband's hand and covered in flashback), and the film becomes a landscape of shifting, susceptible, and sensitive liaisons, not all of them for the best.

Fywell and (Heidi) Thomas, who worked together previously on a BBC production of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, effectively capture the eccentric wit of Smith's 1948 book, and tint it with the agony of human frailties, the discipline of appealing drama, and a perceptive interplay among the ensemble cast. The acting soars with the women and is just slightly less so with the men, more out the manner in which the roles were written. The production benefits immensely from Oscar-nominated (Shakespeare in Love) talents of hair and makeup designer Lisa Wescott and cinematographer Richard Greatex, in addition to costumes created by Charlotte Walter. I Capture the Castle moves smoothly in capturing a coming-of-age story and the changing romantic and economic relationships between family, friends, and paramours. It's a diamond in the rough.

Directed by:
Tim Fywell

Romola Garai
Rose Byrne
Henry Thomas
Marc Blucas
Bill Nighy
Tara Fitzgerald
Sinéad Cusack
Henry Cavill

Written by:
Heidi Thomas

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult







www.nitrateonline.com  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.