I Capture the Castle (2003) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for brief nudity
Running time: 111 min.

Cast: Romola Garai, Henry Thomas, Rose Byrne, Marc Blucas, Bill Nighy, Tara Fitzgerald, Sinead Cusack, Henry Cavill  
Director: Tim Fywell
Screenplay: Heidi Thomas

Review published July 11, 2003

Based on a book by Dodie Smith, who is perhaps well-known as the author that penned the novel, "The Hundred and One Dalmatians,"  I Capture the Castle is no less enchanting a fairy tale, although it's a straightforward drama rather than a fantasy.  Put simply, it's a delight, with complex insight into the hopes and dreams of a girl coming of age that are perhaps too sophisticated to be in a film aimed at children. 

Of course, the R rating would suggest that children need not apply, as it has a couple of nude scenes, but in my honest opinion, that rating is scandalous.  Even with the couple of chaste scenes showing bare breasts you see, to say this film deserves anything above a PG-13, which generally allows for quite a bit more nudity and sometimes in sexual situations, is seriously undercutting the potential audience that would identify with the themes and characters presented.

Although an ensemble piece, most of the story centers around 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain (Garai, Nicholas Nickleby), who lives with her family out in the English countryside in a small old castle.  They have very little in money, mostly because their father (Nighy, Love Actually) has been growing more crazy over the past 15 years, not having written a novel in over a decade.  Her older sister, Rose (Byrne, Attack of the Clones), hates everything about living there, wishing desperately for a way out, and one day that wish has a chance of coming true, in the form of two traveling wealthy American brothers, Simon (Thomas, Gangs of New York) and Neil (Blucas, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back).  Using their guile, Rose and Cassandra begin devising a way to woo Simon's heart, which would lead to Rose's departure and riches for the family.  However, feelings have become entangled for all involved, and no one is more confused about love than young Cassandra.

I Capture the Castle offers lots to like, even if the main story doesn't offer any real surprises.  The primary foundation for the quality of the film comes from the excellent characterizations, with every character revealing themselves to be more complicated than would appear when we first meet them.  They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and we end up liking them all, even if they do some things which we probably wouldn't approve of.   The performances all around are terrific, with an especially standout performance by Romola Garai as the angst-ridden Cassandra.

Heidi Thomas does an excellent job in bringing the literary qualities to life in a theatrical mold, keeping the themes strongly recurring with appropriately subtle touches of symbolism.  Lush cinematography is provided by Richard Greatrex (A Knight's Tale, Mrs. Brown), and is greatly complimented by the great set decoration of Judy Farr (The Red Violin, Ever After) and costumes by Charlotte Walter. 

I Capture the Castle is a a young woman's tale every bit as whimsical and entertaining as the similar Ever After, both romantic fairytales told without the use of magic or spells.  It isn't just for girls, as there's enough to keep the attention of most others, with soap opera twists in the love triangles, and side stories that blend in well with the main one, without detracting from the overall experience.  Recommended primarily for young women (as long as the nudity isn't a problem), but also for anyone else who enjoys period pieces or good romances done with credible depth and intelligence.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo