I Capture the Castle

After finishing I Capture the Castle, one cannot help but notice the similarities to last year's Nicholas Nickleby. Both are adaptations of much-beloved novels (this one by Dodie Smith, the author of One Hundred and One Dalmatians). Both are exceedingly warm films, full of genuine emotion, most of it good. Both also can balance heavier feelings with genial ones, and have impressive casts. Sadly, both are small films that the most people will never hear of. Above all, both have Romola Garai. Garai had a small role in Nicholas Nickleby, and I Capture the Castle is her first lead role. Garai may not be drop-dead gorgeous (hey, she still looks great) but embodies a certain intellectual quality that makes her characters seem wise beyond their years. She has tremendous talent, and is able to give her performances a large amount of depth. Next up for Garai is Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, a retelling of Dirty Dancing, so let's see if she sells out or not.

Garai's (Nicholas Nickleby) Cassandra Mortmain is a precocious seventeen-year old in 1930's England. She lives in a castle with her exceedingly eccentric family. Her father, James (Bill Nighy, Lawless Heart, Blow Dry) is working on a decade-plus case of writer's block. He wrote a popular novel, and has not been able to write a new book. As a direct result, the family is in dire financial straits. Her sister Rose (Rose Byrne, City of Ghosts, Attack of the Clones) yearns to leave their boredom and separation from others. Cassandra escapes by writing in her journal. Their stepmother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald, Rancid Aluminum, Secret Passage) is an artist that enjoys sunbathing nude on the castle grounds. Life changes for the Mortmains when American brothers Simon and Neil Cotton arrive. The Cotton family owns the land and the castle that the Mortmains live on, and Rose increasingly sees Simon (Henry Thomas, Gangs of New York, All the Pretty Horses) as a way out of poverty. She will woo him and get him to propose, then they can marry into wealth.

It all sounds pretty standard, and honestly, the story is. Heck, it's over fifty years old. What makes I Capture the Castle good (much to the relief of its legion of fans) is director Tim Fywell and adapter Heidi Thomas. All of the characters are wonderfully strange and full of life. They are able to affect a good balance between the humorous and the poignant. There is a surprising amount of pathos that comes with the comedy. After all, this is also a coming-of-age story for Cassandra. Rose does get Simon to propose, which causes some temporary joy for everybody involved. As time passes, Rose's initial infatuation fades, but she still wants to hold to the engagement. Worse, Cassandra finds herself attracted to Simon. She does not want to break her sister's engagement, yet she abhors the idea of marrying for money and not for love.

The characters are not weird for the sake of being weird. Each person is trying to deal with their situation in the only way they can. These people are pretty hurt by their situations, and they are doing their best to cope. Unlike characters in most movies, these people think like real people. They are rich and complex, and do not do the typical things that movie characters do. Garai easily carries the film, combining a good adaptation with good acting. Nighy and Fitzgerald also do well, bringing a sense of resignation to their roles. The only actor who feels out of place is Marc Blucas (View from the Top, They). Neil is Blucas' largest and most serious role to date. He has some experience, but not enough yet to perform in a period piece. The film slows down whenever he has extended dialogue or screen time, but this is a small complaint in an otherwise enjoyable experience.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated R for brief nudity.

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