I Capture The Castle

on July 11, 2003 by Kim Williamson
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"I have relived this particular day many times. It is a golden memory, and I am suspicious of it.... Perhaps it really was a happy day." With that intriguing voiceover, accompanied by sunny visuals of a young and hopeful English family in an open car on their way to an old Suffolk castle that will become instead their dank, cold and unhappy home for the next 10 years, begins the story of younger daughter Cassandra ("Nicholas Nickleby's" Romola Garai, simple perfection), a diary-keeper who dreams of becoming a writer like--well, not quite like--her creatively burned-out father Mortmain ("Fairy Tale's" Bill Nighy, a bit given to dramatics). And Cassandra, like older sister Rose ("City of Ghosts'" Rose Byrne, quite good as a desperate gold-digger: "I'd marry a chimpanzee if he had money"), dreams of falling in love--although there are no boys living anywhere near the impoverished family's far-flung outpost. Until, that is, two young and rich American gentlemen ("Gangs of New York's" Henry Thomas and "We Were Soldiers'" Marc Blucas, both convincingly good-hearted) come on scene.

First-time feature director Tim Fywell brings a certain literate sensibility from his BBC TV work to "I Capture the Castle," which itself is based on a 1948 novel by British writer Dodie Smith, who later penned "The Hundred and One Dalmatians." Despite its high-class producer imprimatur (David Parfitt won an Oscar for "Shakespeare in Love"), as captured here the tale seems less aimed for the older art-house crowd than for teenaged girls eager for discerning and intelligent drama--in the same "serious" way that, say, Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" was; however, an inexplicable R rating--for a momentary scene in which Cassandra's bohemian-painter stepmother ("Siren's" Tara FitzGerald) disrobes to better experience an evening countryside rain--will bar most of that prime distaff demographic.

What could bring a specialized buzz to "I Capture the Castle" is the performance by Garai, whose plain but passionate face proves fertile ground for Fywell's camera and whose voice seems perfectly attuned to Smith's text as adapted by screenwriter Heidi Thomas (who paired with Fywell on the BBC's "Madame Bovary"). Although much of her character's activity is reactive, Garai provides the film's heart; every key action or decision of her family or the fellows seems to seep through her and become imprinted on her soul, and her most effective work occurs in the silent registrations of their lighter or darker moralities on Garai's argent face. Starring Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Rose Byrne, Tara FitzGerald, Henry Thomas and Marc Blucas. Directed by Tim Fywell. Written by Heidi Thomas. Produced by David Parfitt. A Samuel Goldwyn release. Drama. Rated R for brief nudity. Running time: 113 min

Tags: Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Rose Byrne, Tara FitzGerald, Henry Thomas and Marc Blucas. Directed by Tim Fywell. Written by Heidi Thomas. Produced by David Parfitt. A Samuel Goldwyn release. Drama, teenage, passionate, painter, diary-keeper
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