I Capture the Castle
Directed by Tim Fywell. Starring Romola Garais, Rose Byrne, Tara Fitzgerald, Henry Thomas, Marc Blucas, Bill Nighy, Sinéad Cusack, Henry Cavill. (2003, R, 111 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 8, 2003
"I am never going to fall in love. Life is dangerous enough," declares Cassandra (Garais), the unusually grave narrator of I Capture the Castle, a BBC co-production based on the 1946 novel by Dodie Smith (the novel and the film are set in the late Thirties). Cassandra’s frequent narration – taken from her diary entries – introduces us to her shambling, bohemian family, the Mortmains: father (Nighy), a novelist who, 10 years on, has yet to follow up his one, wildly successful book; stepmother Topaz (Fitzgerald), an artist given to stripping naked in the countryside in an effort to contact her muse; a younger brother; and an older sister named Rose (Byrne), a ravishing redhead going a little batty from their intensely isolated, intensely impoverished existence at a crumbling Suffolk castle. That all changes when two American brothers – the plainspoken, cowboyish Neil (Blucas) and the elder, more serious-minded Simon (Thomas) – stumble onto their property one rainy night. Quite fortuitously, they are the landowners of the estate the Mortmain castle is situated on, and they both become enamored of Rose, who sees a way out of poverty and her family’s stifling eccentricity by way of marriage to Simon. Her plan to ensnare him is really quite ruthless, but Byrne’s undeniable warmth takes the edge off her cold conniving; after all, a girl has to survive, and this way she can guarantee her family’s continued subsistence, as well. At first, this is Rose’s story as seen through the eyes of Cassandra, but eventually Cassandra enters the romantic fray, too, despite her initial determination to steer clear of the whole thing. Newcomer Romola Garais imbues the "ugly duckling" role of Cassandra with wisdom, humor, and a refreshing articulateness, her sensibility a welcome contrast to Rose’s theatrical hysteria. Cassandra loses some of that spunk when she starts to get swoony, but it’s the kind of swoon a young girl can sink her teeth into – or an older one who can still remember the deliciously tragic fact of falling in love young and with little hope of reciprocation. It calls for long walks, gloomy looks, and frequent diary scribblings, all of which Cassandra, and Tim Fywell’s film, is happy to accommodate. Disappointingly, the American brothers, as unimaginatively portrayed by Blucas and Thomas, are sticks in the mud unworthy of Cassandra and Rose’s sighing attentions – but that, too, is in keeping with a young woman’s first ardors, rarely lavished on the right person. Falling in love with the wrong person makes for a far more toothsome melodrama, a fact this small, satisfying picture rightly recognizes.