I Capture the Castle (2003) Review
Some films take a philosophical approach to the story it sets up. Others embrace what they are, a whimsical oddity. I Capture the Castle is the latter. It’s about as far from a “normal” British costume drama as it can get. When viewers look at the film through that prism, it’s really an endearing coming-of-age story.
I Capture the Castle stars Romola Garai (in one of her early, lesser-known roles) as 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. The story is told partially through a journal-Esque narration which transcribes Cassandra’s loves, losses and growing up.
Living in poverty, Cassandra’s task isn’t an easy one as she tries to keep the peace in her eccentric family, all while keeping her sanity intact while living with them. This consists of her stepmother (Tara Fitzgerald) who is a free-spirited nudist; her father (Bill Nighy), a washed-up author; her little brother and the unpaid servant, Stephen (a young and dashing Henry Cavill) who loves her.
Then there is her sister, Rose (Rose Bryne). Everyone loves Rose and her beguiling beauty, including the Cotton brothers. When a twist of fate brings Neil (Marc Blucas) and Simon (Henry Thomas) to their door, an unforgettable adventure begins.
I’ve watched this twice now and have to admit, I forgot a lot, if not all the significant story cues the second time through. Based on a book written in the 1940s and set in the 1930s, the film itself seems unable to exactly pinpoint its’ time frame. The costumes (particularly those the main characters wear) look out of fashion, and any distinct pieces I did recognize seem more appropriate to the 1920s (though this could explain the family’s poverty more than anything).
Because of the era, the script presents its characters with the many social issues and general changes that were becoming a new normal and allowing young people a lifestyle that was “looser” with far fewer restrictions.
Boil this down and essentially it’s a coming-of-age story for its main heroine, Cassandra, a girl with quite the imagination. Everything confuses her. Expressions of love she’s never before known, watching her sister prepare to marry a man Cassandra loves, being the recipient of unrequited love. And then there’s her relationship with her father.
The girls’ relationship with their father is complicated. When they were young, he spent a stint in prison and has perhaps never quite been forgiven by his eldest daughter, Rose. Then there is Cassandra, the daughter who fervently believes in him still. She has faith that he’ll write a second best-selling novel no matter the length of time that passed between books.
She’s the fragile string that tries to keep everyone and everything intact. Whether that means helping her sister with an overdramatic gown meant to impress potential suitors or locking her father away for the good of his writing, she is the one who keeps her family together. Never an easy task when you’re working with people who cannot keep their feet on the ground. Honestly, all of the Mortmain family are dreamers in their own right.
This brings me to the cast. Everyone does a splendid job with their characters. Especially the members of the Mortmain family, who should all be unhindered, unpolished, “organic” kind of free-spirits living in poverty, yes, but also living on their own terms. That’s just what we get with this cast. Furthermore, period drama fans will also get a kick out of David Bamber in a small role, the man who made us detest Mr. Collins in A&E’s Pride and Prejudice.
Adapted from a novel by Dodie Smith, an interview with Romola (one that’s really quite fun to read) reveals that she felt that scriptwriters adapted a faithful adaptation from the source. (Fellow reviewer Elinor would agree with this; she reviewed the book I Capture the Castle and mentions liking the movie as a solid and faithful adaptation).
In some ways, this won’t be a movie many people will like. In others, I think it’s actually a brilliant film. It’s certainly not the happy ending kind of movie most of us direct our attention to when looking for a new period drama fix, but it’s got something not many productions boast. In its own way, it’s a kind of fairytale story, only without the typical ending.
Overall, the film has unique things to say and seems to have more fun than most period dramas while doing it. There are a lot of ridiculous shenanigans, but that’s what makes I Capture the Castle special. If you don’t mind a mix of absurd comedy and drama that is anything but firmly planted on the ground, you might enjoy this film.
The lovely ending is one of hopeful potential. But, more importantly, Cassandra beautifully narrates about how the life she lived has changed her life for the better, something we’re very glad to see.
Content note: This film is rated R because Cassandra’s stepmother, Topaz is a nudist and on one occasion the camera catches a full-frontal shot of her. The scene lasts for sixty seconds or less.
Photos: BBC / Samuel Goldwyn Films
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
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