I Capture the Castle (2003, dir. Tim Fywell)
Starring Romola Garai, Rose Byrne, Henry Thomas, Marc Blucas, Bill Nighy
This is not the sort of story you would expect from Dodie Smith, the same author behind 101 Dalmatians. Instead of a tale aimed towards the younger set, this is a coming of age story set in the mid-1930s. Themes of wealth and love and how the two are intertwined make up the spine of the picture and, what might have been a trite film, is aided by great performances to become something quite a bit better than that. The picture manages to be both an escapist romance and a grounding story of how much love can hurt.
The film opens with the Mortmains’ arrival at an old castle where their author patriarch has relocated them. The events are narrated by middle child Cassandra (Garai), who is overshadowed by their father’s second wife Topaz and Cassandra’s older sister, Rose (Byrne). The castle, which was a magical place when they first came to live there, has become a dank and moldy tomb for the family. Things begin to change when the owners of the castle, American brothers Simon and Neil Cotton arrive to decide what they are going to do with the estate. Rose sees this as her opportunity to marry into money and tries to woo Simon, the elder brother. However, Cassandra is also smitten with Simon and Neil has feelings for Rose.
The Mortmain family is incredibly eccentric and director Fywell is tasked with finding humor in their quirks as well as showing they have consequences. This is particularly highlighted through Mr. Mortmain, a successful author when his family was young, but who has failed to be able to write anything of value since. At first his hang ups and odd behavior come across light, but as the film progresses we see the detrimental effect that have on his entire family. Cassandra is also forced to face the fact that her father’s mental state may be beyond help. That’s quite a heavy weight for our plucky 16 year old protagonist to handle. In a similar fashion, Rose’s vapidity and desperation to find a man are played for laughs at the start, but when she enters into a relationship with a man she doesn’t actually love we can see how a harmless quirk becomes destructive to many people.
The film is not a major cinematic achievement by any means, but it is a very solid and well paced story about eccentric people having to deal with how their behavior effects others. The story is a very mature one, that lets the characters lose themselves in the giddiness of a first love, but also grounds them by not having everything tied up in a neat package. There is hurt and not much closure for our protagonists. In many ways this is a more adult Nicolas Sparks tale, that refrains from maudlin sentiment and allows its characters to have real flaws.