Writing and Dreaming
"I am never going to fall in love. Life is dangerous enough," says Cassandra, a young English girl, at the beginning of I Capture the Castle. Although these words wave a red flag about the theme of the movie, it's a charming tale of first love and growing up in 1930s England. Even with a preconceived notion of where the film would take me, I found its surprising twists and good dialogue sweetly entertaining.
The Mortmain family inhabits a run-down castle in the town of Suffolk when Cassandra (Cassie), Rose and their younger brother Thomas (Joe Sowerbutts) are young children. Their father is a famous writer who feels the castle is the perfect place for him to write. Over the years his royalty checks diminish, and with no other income, the family becomes practically destitute.
The story unfolds through Cassie's (Romola Garai) writings in her diary, which she uses wittily to offer snippets of the family's past history as well as reflections on her daydreams. Through her voiceovers we learn that the children stayed in a foster home for months while their dad went to prison for killing his wife and their mother. Cassie makes it quite clear that life at the castle is no Club Med.
Cassie may be only 17, but she has more maturity that her older sister, Rose (Rose Byrne), her father (Bill Nighy) and her stepmother Topaz (Tara Fitzerald). Father hides away in his attic waiting for the right words to make them rich again. The eccentric Topaz, once a fledgling artist, spends her time parading around the property in the nude, "It releases me," she says.
When two brothers stop by to check on the property and let the family know they have inherited the land from their father Sir William, they also inquire about the missing years of rent payments. Rose then informs Cassie she intends to marry one of the wealthy boys in order to get the family out of poverty. Rose climbs to the top of a shaky ladder and makes her wish by rubbing her hands on a dusty old half-broken gargoyle -- thereby sealing her fate.
Because brothers Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil Williams (Marc Blucas) find the girls rather intriguing, they become friends with them. Soon Rose does indeed get a proposal from Simon.
Rose is whisked away to be re-branded a lady of society. A scene showing Rose in a department store where a clerk shunned her the day before because of her attire is clearly stolen from Pretty Woman, but it works here. Poor Cassie, left to contend with her brother and a loony father now abandoned by his second wife, must find a way to feed them all. Even her child-hood friend Stephen's (Henry Cavill) confession that he loves her, does little to calm her fears. In fact his disclosure only adds more guilt to her overburdened mind as she realizes that she too, is in love with Simon.
Cassie spends her days longing to be where her sister is -- and dreaming. But soon she realizes dreams are not her answer. "Dreams are a like a drug, they're magic until they wear off, and then you have the pain," she tells her diary.
I Capture the Castle is adapted from the 1948 novel by Dodie Smith, the same author who wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Director Tim Frywell offers his audience an enjoyable journey as this quirky family discovers the highs and lows of life, and a charming young woman gets her first kiss and learns about love.
(Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films and rated "R" for brief nudity.)