I Capture the Castle is a quiet little film based on the novel by Dodie Smith. I had occasion (when clarifying a plot point after the film) to flip through the book, and the film captures the tone of it very well. Heidi Thomas’ screenplay captures the narrative style of Smith’s book and manages to retain the poetry of Cassandra’s thoughts. It begs you to read it. In retrospect the film didn’t feel like it had mountains of voice over narration, but the amount of tone and information conveyed could only have been done so. Right? No matter what, it bodes well that such a literary screenplay could come across so warmly.
Sisters Rose and Cassandra grow up in a dilapidated castle with a writer’s block-accursed genius father James Mortmain (Bill Nighy) and a complicated mother figure situation. Their brilliant little brother winks in the background like a nighttime star, never getting enough of the story for himself. Rose (the impossibly beautiful Rose Byrne) is beautiful and desperate, Cassandra (the also beautiful, but in a subdued way, Romola Garai) is plain but clever; it’s not the newest formula in the world, but the catch is in the execution. They are of course more than just these archetypes, but for the purposes of a review, that will do. The pleasure is in discovering the truths about everyone. The story is complex and winds through the vagaries of life at the edge of real, full life. The daughters’ lives feel like those of fairy tale princesses trapped in a castle, waiting for their prince to come. They are, but it is much more than that.
For most of the film, it’s a poverty-stricken 1936 in England. The castle portion of the film was shot in the prehistorically pristine Isle of Man. Enter hunky Americans Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil (Marc Blucas) and the Mortmain’s stagnant world of artistic suffering and waiting for what they know not what. Their loyal manservant Stephen (Henry Cavill) paddles alongside them as the river of their story ebbs and flows. He adds layers of poignancy to the story when you least expect him to.
Everyone in the house has to love and be loved in ways they don’t intend or expect, exposing their character flaws and accepting them as one. The movie is sweet and funny and beautiful, and sad. Very, very sad. It has an open ending, and so technically speaking it could be ending on a positive as easily as a negative, but some of the most beautiful and powerful moments, the ones that really change lives, are truly bittersweet. Everyone is so different, so warmly drawn, again it makes you want to read the book and get to know them better.
In a summer full of “summer movies,” I Capture the Castle is a fortress reminding you what is most real and important in life is within. Check it out.
MPAA Rating R-brief nudity
Release date 7/11/03
Time in minutes 111
Director Tim Fywell
Studio Distant Horizon / BBC Films