Monday, 11 January 2016

I Capture The Castle (2003)

I’d forgotten how amiable and charming this adaptation of Dodie Smith's 1948 novel is, thanks largely to some deeply engaging performance from Romola Garai and Bill Nighy. Making his break from the small screen to the big screen director Tim Fywell does a rather splendid job overall, even if he occasionally is in danger of losing the narrative altogether when Garai’s Cassandra lets her indecision get the better of her. 

Smith’s most famous novel is probably the family friendly 101 Dalmations, beloved of children thanks to the Disney adaptation. I Capture The Castle is certainly a different beast but I’d recommend the girls who adored 101 to experience both the book and this adaptation when they reach their difficult teenage years.

Nighy plays the head of the 1930s bohemian Mortmain family, whose dysfunctionality is ideally suited for their surroundings – a rented, ruined castle in the middle of nowhere. A novelist whose early promise remains unfulfilled, Mortmain fails to get any writing don, preferring instead to focus exclusively on his family; his beautiful, daydreamy daughters Cassandra (Garai) and Rose (Rose Byrne) his young son and their stepmother Topaz, an eccentric artist who has a penchant for stripping off nude in the most torrential downpours. Naturally, she is played by Tara Fitzgerald. The fate of Mortmain’s first wife, the mother of his children is slowly revealed throughout the course of the film like all the best shrouded family tragedies. 

Into the Mortmain’s genteel poverty arrives two American brothers Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil (Marc Blucas) who have inherited the land and castle, becoming their new landlord and turning the young ladies of the house to the dizzying prospects of first love and marriage.

The film is at its best when exploring the peculiar mix of naivety and eccentricity at the heart of the family, losing its way a little as things become more complicated emotionally. But fighting against this tide, we find the excellent performances of the then 21-year-old Garai – carrying the film with all the skill of someone double her years – and Bill Nighy, who depicts the breakdown of Mortmain and his overwhelming love for his family, even when he is hurting them, with great passion.

Lovely score too.

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