I Capture the Castle (2003) Movie Review

It’s probably just as well that the English film “I Capture the Castle” never states what time period its story is taking place in. The film, about an eccentric family that themselves itself living in a rundown castle in the English countryside, could have taken place anywhere and in any era. The film captures that important (and all-too short) time in a teen’s life when love and lust and everything else are just one big jumbled mess, and trying to decipher the truth from the lies and everything in-between will eventually lead to heartbreak and, at the same time, euphoria.

Romola Garai stars in “I Capture the Castle” as 17-year old Cassandra, who is only plain when compared to her sister Rose (Rose Byrne), their overly nutty step-mother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), and their neurotic and novelist father (Bill Nighy), who hasn’t written a single word in 12 years. Falling on hard times, the family is forced to move into a rundown castle, where they struggle to put food on the table and not get thrown out by the landlord. Possible salvation comes in the form of two American brothers, Neil (Marc Blucas) and Simon (Henry Thomas), who have inherited the castle. Topaz and Rose immediately latches onto Simon as Rose’s potential suitor, but where does that leave the fragile Cassandra and the headstrong Neil?

“Castle” does well by never showing its hand earlier than it has to, thus keeping us in suspense as to who will end up with whom, or if any of them will end up with anyone at all, until almost the very end. Even though the movie is sometimes flighty, oftentimes amusing, and sporadically serious, the film will feel personal and at home with most viewers. The teen years are always the most confusing, with love and lust sometimes indistinguishable, and feelings sweeping across like tsunamis — powerful, overwhelming, and wholly unpredictable. To those still living their teen years, the world seems to move in slow motion; and to those of us already beyond it, it all seems to have gone by so fast.

Such is the predicament of Cassandra, as she seeks to navigate through her confused feelings for Simon, Neil, and the family’s “helper”, Stephen (Henry Cavill). The movie is told through Cassandra’s eyes, who keeps a diary and writes obsessively in it. “Castle” is a personal movie, dealing with the trials and tribulations of not growing up poor or in a rundown castle, but growing up as a teen trying to learn about the things that will aid her in her transformation into a young adult. We’ve all been through it, and we know exactly how poor Cassandra feels.

As the star of “Castle”, young Romola Garai does an excellent job. The young actress handles all the different emotions her character is forced to endure with skill and, most important of all, complete believability. Although the movie tries to convince us that Cassandra is the plain sister compared to Byrne’s Rose, I can’t say that it entirely works, for the simple reason that Garai is not unattractive. Or it could just be her somber, thoughtful eyes that draw us to her. Either way, she makes a fine leading lady and should have a good career ahead of her.

Of the cast, only Tara Fitzgerald (“Dark Blue World”) rises above her lot as just another member of an oddball family. Her penchant for going nude in the strangest locations doesn’t hurt matters. Mark Blucas (“They”) does well as Neil, the man of action who takes matters into his own hands when he feels it’s needed. Henry Thomas (“Suicide Kings”) is appropriate as the introverted and indecisive Simon. Although he eventually becomes engaged to Rose, Simon still pursues Cassandra, proving that even with age, love and lust is still sometimes indistinguishable, and emotions are still sometimes a mystery.

“I Capture the Castle” is not a depressing film, but it’s not a complete comedy either. There are some amusing scenes, but there’s always an underlying mood of seriousness. Cassandra’s author father, who is suffering through a 12-year writer’s block, has a history of losing his temper — one such occasion involving a cake knife and his wife, as well as their terrified neighbor and the father ending up in prison for 4 months. And despite her bohemian tendencies, Topaz is drifting away from the family and back into the arms of another man.

In the end, “Castle” is a charming film that is greatly boasted by a terrific performance from its young and talented female lead. And if I had to guess, “Castle” looks like it’s taking place somewhere in 1930s England.

Tim Fywell (director) / Dodie Smith (novel), Heidi Thomas (screenplay)
CAST: Romola Garai …. Cassandra Mortmain
Rose Byrne …. Rose Mortmain
Henry Thomas …. Simon Cotton
Marc Blucas …. Neil Cotton
Bill Nighy …. James Mortmain
Tara Fitzgerald …. Topaz Mortmain

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