I CAPTURE THE CASTLE
movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: This review/spoiler was sent in by Carl Zapffe.
"I Capture the Castle"(B-) is one of those films that implies a romance that this movie utterly fails to deliver. The story comes from novelist Dodie Smith (1896 - 1990), who also wrote 101 Dalmatians (1961). Ms. Smith co-wrote several Hollywood screenplays and numerous other works during her lifetime, many of which were written under an assumed name. This particular story takes place during the 1930's, the years of the Great Depression.
This movie is beautifully filmed and well acted. That being said, the move plays in such a leisurely manner as to appear to be a product ripe for television's Masterpiece Theater instead of having an actual theatrical release. In point of fact, BBC films is one of the producers of this movie.
While the characterizations are crisp, the story by author Dodie Smith is populated by a bunch of kooks and eccentrics, only a few of whom know what they want out of life. This is all while they are causing great pain to those whom they profess to love. So instead of making this movie fun to watch, these eccentric characters just end up just being rather annoying.
Cassandra, or Cassie, as she is called by those who love her, is the younger daughter of the impoverished and eccentric Mortmain family. It is she who is the heroine of this story as she is one of the few sensible and decent persons in this movie. Her role, captivatingly played by actress Romola Garai with subtle richness, is so effective that we all are rooting for Cassie to come out on top in both life and love.
Sold as a love story, Cassandra, the one single person who truly deserves to be loved in this movie, fails to get her man in the end, so don't expect a romantic payoff. Everyone, it seems, loves someone else, albeit the wrong person.
So "I Capture the Castle" fails as a romance in addition to committing the sin of false advertising, for if Cassandra doesn't end up marrying the owner of the castle that her family has been renting, then what castle has she "captured," for heaven's sake? When a story fails to come to its proper, obvious, and logical conclusion, then this defect of necessity ends up detracting substantially from the pleasure of seeing the film.
This movie would have provided an interesting evening on the small screen, perhaps as a presentation by the Arts and Entertainment cable channel or by PBS as a Masterpiece Theater program. It doesn't really merit the art house rollout which it has received. While beautifully filmed and more than capably acted, the fault, as they say, is in the story.
The Mortmain family is the very definition of a dysfunctional family. The father, James Mortmain (Bill Nighy), had published a highly successful novel many years before and ever since has failed to write even one paragraph of quality literature. Veering in and out of mental instability, he attacked his first wife with a kitchen knife. Convicted for this action, he spent four years in a London prison while his two daughters were both at a very young and impressionable age.
Finally out in prison, he comes home just in time to watch his first wife waste away from disease, all the while being unable to nourish her or encourage her in any way in her ultimately failing battle to regain her health. Shortly thereafter, James was lucky enough to find a much younger woman, Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), a "groupie" who worshipped him for his first novel and wished to inspire him to write many more. All he was able to do for her was to give her a young son, a stepbrother for his two older daughters.
Many years of drink and mental instability have taken their toll. James has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for years as the sales of that one novel written many years before lessen with every passing year, bringing his income down as well. The only avenue of escape was to flee London for a small castle in the hill country of Ireland. He has lived there with his family for some dozen years or so, and is now two years behind in the rent. The family credit is in ruins and each tries to make the best of what is never enough. James retreats daily to his room in the castle tower to read and ponder, but, unfortunately, never to write.
His two daughters are now on the threshold of adulthood. Rose (Rose Byrne) is the elder sister and a real beauty she is: tall, thin, elegant, and with flowing red hair down to her waist. Sad to say, her personality does not match her beauty, as she is very angry, justifiably angry at her father for his many failings, though most of all angry at him for being such a poor provider. Rose wants to have money so that she can live life and enjoy life and she can do neither as long as the Mortmain family is pinching every last penny while cooped up in their dingy castle.
Cassandra Mortmain, "Cassie," is the 17 year old younger daughter. She is tall and gangly and lacks the womanliness of Rose, her older sister. That being said, she is still more than pretty enough with a friendly face that exudes intelligence and good judgment. She is by far the loveliest of the two sisters as her inner beauty easily outshines Rose's outer beauty, a beauty that serves only as a thin veneer for her occasional ill temper and materialistic inclinations. In spite of Rose's faults, however, the two sisters are deeply devoted to each other. As they share the same bedroom, they are allowed more than ample opportunity to share their private thoughts every night before falling asleep.
Cassie is sweet and loving and generous in all of her instincts. She has captured the romantic attentions of the Mortmain handyman, Stephen Colley (Henry Cavill), a gorgeous young man who lusts after Cassie unreservedly and remains with the Mortmain family as an employee even though he hasn't been paid in months.
Topaz Mortmain (Tara Fitzgerald), James' far younger second wife, is trying desperately to keep the family from disintegrating. She is a very pretty woman and a very decent person who has deserved better than she has gotten, who has given far more than she has received. Her son and only child with James is going though his impossible stage, James' first two daughters both have a rather distant relationship with her, and James himself is continuing to spiral out of control in spite of her best efforts to help him. Topaz had hoped to be his muse, his inspiration, and now all she has is an unpleasant life without love, respect, or spousal communication.
One rainy evening while the Mortmain family is sitting around the table, their occasional bickering is interrupted by a strange noise coming from outside in the storm darkened night. All immediately drop everything and rush outside, where they find two young men in an automobile stuck in the mud on the path that serves as a road past the castle.
After they all have helped to rescue the car from the muddy path, the Mortmains invite the young men in to the castle to dry off and have some good cheer. It turns out that the Mortmains have rescued their landlords, the Cottons. Simon Cotton (a grown up Henry Thomas from "E.T.") and his younger brother, Neil Cotton (Marc Blucas), introduce themselves while the two Mortmain sisters quietly admire them for their masculine appeal.
Simon and Neil's parents had divorced many years before and each parent had taken one son with them. The father had taken Neil to America where he has grown up in the West and has fallen in love with everything American. Simon has remained with his mother, (Sinéad Cusack, and has traveled with her ever since. This has been the first time that the Cottons have come home to Ireland for many years. This visit has also provided the first opportunity for the two brothers to spend some time together, as they also have not seen each other in many years.
After the introductions have been made and in the midst of the small talk, a suggestion is made that Rose entertain the two men by playing at the piano located in the corner of the living room. She quickly takes to this suggestion as she sees romantic opportunity in these two young, unmarried men of wealth. Unfortunately, her efforts have exactly the opposite effect on the two far more cultured brothers as the piano is badly out of tune and she is little better as a singer as she hasn't practiced in years. Simon and Neil exchange glances of forbearance while finding it difficult not to grimace at this auditory assault on their hearing.
Cassie, who writes in privacy up in the loft of the barn adjacent to the castle, hears as much as the two brothers walk past the barn the next morning with the overheard topic of conversation being about how horrible Rose's playing and singing was the past evening. She keeps this slur about her beloved sister to herself. In a later conversation, Rose avers privately to Cassie that her desire is to capture the heart of Simon and she decides that she will not even allow him to kiss her until he has proposed.
The invitations are reciprocated and the Mortmain family is invited to a formal dinner at the grand country home of Mrs. Cotton. Other friends of Mrs. Cotton are also invited to dine, including a priest and friend of the family and a middle aged woman sporting an art deco hair style who, it turns out, is an artist of some repute. There things go much better as both girls shine at this candlelit dinner.
Mrs. Cotton, who is aware of the many problems in James' past, publicly humiliates him at the dinner table in an effort to get a rise out of him. Those at the table go silent in embarrassment. When he takes the insult sitting down, Mrs. Cotton, explains that she was just testing him and that this is her method of doing this. Finding him to be a fascinating "patient" with whom to work, she proposes to take him under her wing and bring him on a trip to London the next day. James Mortmain readily agrees while his poor wife, who is sitting further down the table, writhes in quiet agony. Her loyalty and her love for her husband prevent her from saying anything.
The youngest Mortmain stepbrother has not been invited to this formal affair, and neither has their handyman, Stephen Colley (Henry Cavill). Their curiosity overwhelming their good sense, they find a ladder and lean it against the Cotton home. The ladder enables them to climb up to a second story window and peer down at the dinner guests from above. Their occasional movements alert the artist to their presence and in the hullabaloo surrounding her announcement that these little spies are looking in that window, the two boys and their ladder fall back away from the building. They are quickly rescued and brought into the Cotton home to see if any injuries have been endured. Fortunately, none has, but the opportunity allows the artist to observe them and then meet Stephen Colley, who is pretty enough to be a male model. She hires him on the spot as photographic portraiture is her mode of artistic expression.
Simon Cotton quickly becomes entranced by the beautiful Rose and he and Neil often visit the Mortmains at their home. By default, Neil gets to know Cassie during these visits and they each come to have a mutual respect and fondness for the other. Cassie, noticing the rising sexual tension between Simon and Rose one night, suggests that they all go swimming in the moat. Everyone readily agrees, but Cassie knows that only two swimsuits are available. By default, she then suggests that only she and Neil go swimming together.
Rose and Simon are left upstairs in a precious moment of privacy and romance, and Simon makes the most of this opportunity. He proposes and Rose quickly and joyously accepts. They passionately kiss and wait for Cassie and Neil to return.
Neil looks dumbfounded by this turn of events but later that night Rose tells Cassie that she really does love Simon. Rose goes off to London for her trousseau to the very same exclusive store that a snobbish saleswoman had months before declined to do business with the two sisters when asked to dispose of inherited furs from a recently deceased distant aunt. "We don't deal in second hand goods," she replied snootily. Now Rose is back with a blank checkbook, her hair newly clipped and looking much less "country" and much more "big city" stylish than before.
In the meantime Mrs. Cotton has tried to encourage James Mortmain with frequent trips to London, so frequent that Topaz sadly wonders if they are having an affair or if her marriage will endure. She decides that she is of no use to her husband, so she leaves him and goes back to London to resume her career as a painter.
For his part, the young Stephen Colley has also moved to London to become the photographic model and live in "boy toy" for that "advanced" middle aged artist. He has dreams of becoming a movie star. None of this, however, stops him from grabbing for sexual opportunity by passionately embracing Cassie during one of his occasional visits back to Ireland. At the very moment of danger, however, Cassie calls it off as she realizes that she can't go through with their coupling on the warm floor of the woods on that sunny summer day. She still doesn't love Stephen and she still will not sacrifice her principles.
During Rose's long stay in London, Simon returns home and invites Cassie over for a private dinner. They share a very romantic dinner together, the mood of which is vastly compounded by Simon putting a romantic record on the Victrola so that they can have a quiet dance together. Cassie is troubled by Simon's display of affection that goes beyond platonic love, but she is too much in love with him to mind very much when he puts his arm around her. They exchange one tender, sweet kiss together before the evening ends and Cassie returns home.
During the warm summer months the Mortmain family hatch a plan for their father. Under the pretext of a picnic, they lure their father out to the castle tower some distance from their home but still on the property. After the picnic, they pull out his typewriter and some paper and then pull the ladder up from the sunken floor of the tower, leaving James a virtual prisoner inside. They inform him that he will not be able to leave until he has written 50 pages of quality literature.
The first day is a disaster as he is only able to type two small repetitive sentences, but after some time has passed he gradually learns how to write once again. A 50 page short story of considerable quality later effects his freedom, and soon James is on the train to London to fetch his wife. James loves her and he wants her back. They have a sweet reunion as he presents her with his new manuscript, his first written effort in 12 years.
Life moves on and then one day Rose disappears from her hotel suite. Just disappears, and no one knows where she went. With some help from friends and a little detective work, Cassie and Simon, who have taken charge of the search for Rose, narrow the area of her presumed location down to an inn in a small town. Arriving at the inn, they check the register to find a "Mr. and Mrs. Neil Smith" registered as the occupants of the rooms. Rose has quite inexplicably run off with Simon's brother, Neil.
Neil and Rose later marry and one sunny day Simon comes over to visit Cassie. We hope that it for the purpose of proposing, but Simon confesses that he is romantically wounded and still in love with Rose. For her part, Cassie tells him that she could never have him until he loves her, and her alone, without reservation. Simon agrees to return at some point in the future when he has worked Rose out of his system. They part on that sunny day as dear friends and perhaps someday lovers.