I Capture The Castle

I Capture The Castle


Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

The title is clumsy, but perfect. In the book by Dodie Smith (and no, it's not much like her better-known 101 Dalmatians, though it was voted the 29th favourite female-authored book in a recent poll), it refers to heroine Cassandra's attempts to become a writer by faithfully describing her family's constrained, poverty-stricken, eccentric life in a dingy castle.

In the film, it describes director Tim Fywell and screenwriter Heidi Thomas' marvellous achievement in helping the fragile charm of the book survive the transition to screen. Those who love the book, unless they're very picky, should be relieved; those who haven't read it should find it a refreshing take on the usual period drama cliches, with a dry wit and a refreshing realism leavening the lush romance.

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Living in a castle sounds like fun, but not if you're reduced to counting the biscuits and reusing candle-ends because your supposedly genius father hasn't done a stroke of work in years. They may be posh, but they're suffering their own version of the Depression. As the film begins, tethers are at their end and everyone's starting to snap. Two American brothers turn up who've inherited the big estate nearby: it's all so Pride and Prejudice that Rose (Australian actress Rose Byrne), lovely, shallow, frustrated, determinedly throws herself at them, helped by younger and sharper sister Cassandra.

Beautifully played by Romola Garai, she's halfway between child and adult - and getting closer to the latter all the time. She manages to look stunning at some points and quite plain at others, knowing and naive, in a delicate performance helped by subtle costume and lighting choices. Garai has to carry most of the film, especially given the amount of voiceover journal entries. That's usually a screenwriter's copout to explain things that you should be able to see on the actors' faces; but the writing is so vivid and funny, and Garai so captivating, that it works, pulling you into Cassandra's intense, heart-felt thoughts.

The rest of the cast are excellent too, particularly Bill Nighy as the proud, hopelessly blocked father. Perhaps as a reward for his unshowy performance throughout, he's given a redundant and soppy confessional scene near the end which over-eggs the pudding. Tara Fitzgerald is endearing as his terribly pretentious, yet basically kind, wife.

As for the romantic interests, Henry Thomas, despite never having quite grown into his face somehow since ET, is fine as the over-sensitive, literary type, though you can't quite see why anyone would fall for him. Marc Blucas, so blandly goodie-goodie in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, is terrific, a vital, healthy Californian hunk who's hopelessly out of place in this world and knows it. As Cassandra's adoring swain Stephen, Henry Cavill is dreamy in the schoolgirl crush way that somehow only goes so far.

The characters have life, even if you don't think much of some of them. And the film manages to capture the painful glory of first love, misplaced love and the temptations of sex over true affection, with a brave and uplifting ending.

The film's PG rating for once should be taken as encouragement. Parents trying to nurture bright, sassy teenage girls should drag them along.

Reviewed on: 30 May 2003
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Coming-of-age drama about the daughter of an author suffering writer's block.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Director: Tim Fywell

Writer: Heidi Thomas, based on the novel by Dodie Smith

Starring: Romola Garai, Rose Byrne, Henry Thomas, Marc Blucas, Bill Nighy, Tara Fitzgerald, Sinead Cusack, Henry Cavill

Year: 2003

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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