movie film review | chris tookey

I Capture The Castle

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  I  Capture The Castle Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
6.83 /10
Romola Garai , Rose Byrne , Henry Thomas
Full Cast >

Directed by: Tim Fywell
Written by: Heidi Thomas , based on Dodie Smith’s novel

Released: 2003
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: GB/ US
Colour: C
Length: 112

Two English girls try to save their family from poverty.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Many females of my acquaintance, including my wife, have been awaiting this adaptation of Dodie Smith's well-loved novel with as much anxiety as anticipation. So let me say straight away that producer David Parfitt, director Tim Fywell and screenwriter Heidi Thomas have done Dodie Smith proud.

This is by far the most charming film to have hit our screens this year, and the most enchanting British movie since Billy Elliot.

Just as Billy Elliot catapulted Jamie Bell to instant stardom, I Captured the Castle deserves to do the same for Romola Garai. I can't remember a more captivating debut by a young British actress.

She has the emotional transparency of Meryl Streep, but with the warmth and freshness of the girl next door - a unique combination. I was reminded a lot of the young Susannah York. A star, and potentially a superstar, is born.

The story, set in the 1930s, centres on two young women, Rose (Rose Byrne) and Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai) - who is the heroine and narrator of the piece. They live in a rented, semi-derelict Suffolk castle, in a state of extravagant poverty.

Their avant-garde novelist father (Bill Nighy) has had writer's block for 12 years, and has never been the same since serving a prison sentence for attacking the girls' late mother with a cake knife.

Dad's malfunctioning Muse and the girls' young stepmother, Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), is an artist's model of bohemian tastes, much given to prancing about in the nude - though practicalities of the Suffolk climate necessitate the wearing also of Wellington boots.

The elder daughter Rose's only hope of rescuing her family from starvation lies initially in prostitution - a course of action from which Cassandra dissuades her with practical rather than moral considerations - "You can't go on the streets in the depths of Suffolk!"

Rose's Plan B is to seduce the older son (Henry Thomas) of a rich American family who have moved in to a neighbouring mansion, and are now the Mortmains' landlords. Lack of love is not a problem. "I'd marry a chimpanzee if he had money," Rose reassures her sister, prior to a post-engagement shopping spree that makes Julia Roberts' one in Pretty Woman look parsimonious.

Just to add romantic complications, Rose really fancies the younger, poorer American son (Marc Blucas); while Cassandra is torn between Stephen (Henry Cavill), the ridiculously handsome but poor unpaid servant of the Mortmain family, and the elder son to whom her sister is engaged - and to whom she announces, after a passionate first kiss on the lips, "I don't think I'm sophisticated enough for this".

If you haven't read the book, the tone (and, indeed, the husband-hunting theme) is pretty much that of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, but updated to the 1930s with the comedic touch of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love.

There's also a hint of feminism. To counter the off-putting man-and-marriage obsessed Rose, Cassandra's writing ambition, common sense and humour mark her out as a heroine any modern girl can identify with - and any right-thinking boy would like to know better.

Young love seen through the eyes of a character J.K. Rowling has described as "one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever met" makes for a funny, touching, refreshingly original experience in the cinema. And though it will inevitably attract the dismissive epithet "teen chick flick", it is in fact a movie that anyone with a heart and sense of humour will relish.

In years to come, people are going to look back on this movie with the same glow of affection many feel towards the original film of The Railway Children. It captures something unique about growing up English and female.

I feel slightly guilty about singling Romola Garai out for adulation, for the Australian Rose Byrne is also marvellous as her more obviously beautiful but flaky sister, while the reliably excellent Bill Nighy and a back-on-form Tara Fitzgerald have never been better. Both find warmth and vulnerability within characters who might easily have seemed distant and affected.

No film is perfect. Admirable though Tim Fywell is when directing the actors, he might have done more to capture the visual magic of the novel - though I wouldn't wish to be too hard on him: it is highly possible that financial constraints prevented him from opening out the movie with greater success. For a first feature on a limited budget, this is a splendid achievement.

Heidi Thomas's script is intelligent, economical and sensitive to the strengths of the novel. I would have liked to see a little more attention given to rectifying its weaknesses. There could have been greater development in the relationship between the daughters and their stepmother. And Rose's burgeoning love for the more underwritten of the two brothers, Neil, is so subtly delineated that it comes as a little too much of a surprise to the audience.

However, the film is still a delight and reflects credit on everyone involved.

David Parfitt, for so long Kenneth Branagh's less-publicised collaborator at Renaissance Films, came into his own with Shakespeare in Love, and confirms that he now ranks among the best producers in the world.

Casting director Kate Rhodes James has helped Tim Fywell assemble a magnificent cast, none of whom is "bankable" in Hollywood terms, and many of whom will be unfamiliar to the general public.

One reason I wish this production great success is that seldom has one British picture launched so many potentially brilliant careers. And in Romola Garai, English cinema has found the most charismatic new leading lady since Kate Winslet.

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