"This is intimacy: its touch is ever new, revealing the precious moments we have to live and to connect with things," Gunilla Norris has written. Adolescence is often the time when we feel this intimacy most acutely. We ride the surf of our feelings and fantasies and relish the pleasures they bring us. I Capture the Castle is based on a classic novel by British writer Dodie Smith written in 1948, several years before she penned The Hundred and One Dalmations. The film, beautifully directed by Tim Fywell, is set in 1930s England. It is structured around narration by a 17-year old girl who is charting her first experiences of romantic intimacies in her journal.
Cassandra (Romola Garai) lives with her impoverished family in a rented castle in Suffolk. Her father, Mortmain (Bill Nighy), is a blocked novelist who has been struggling for 20 years to produce a follow-up to his well-received debut novel. After the death of his first wife, he settled down with Topaz (Tara FitzGerald), a former artist’s model who paints and does her best to serve as her husband's muse. The other members of the family are Rose (Rose Byrne), the beautiful eldest daughter who is desperate to escape from the disheveled castle, and Thomas (Joe Sowerbutts), the youngest member of the household who is good with numbers. Stephen (Henry Cavill) serves as a caretaker on the property and has been in love with Cassandra since they were children.
Following the death of the castle's owner, the family meets the heirs of the estate, who are Americans. They are the highly opinionated Mrs. Cotton (Sinead Cusack) and her two sons, Simon (Henry Thomas), a quiet and reserved young man, and Neil (Marc Blucas), the younger and more aggressive fellow. Cassandra realizes at once that something new and hopeful is on the horizon.
Rose flirts with Simon when the two young men come for a visit and before long they are engaged. She sees marriage to this wealthy young man as a way out of the family’s poverty. After Rose goes to London and is introduced to a dazzling world of conveniences and privileges, it begins to dawn on Cassandra that neither she nor her sister knows very much about men or romance. For example, they are both mystified by their stepmother's strange way of releasing her tensions by stripping off her clothes and embracing the air around her in joyful frenzy.
On Midsummer’s Day, Simon visits the castle alone and spends some time with Cassandra. They dance, and he impulsively kisses her. She falls into a swoon and after he leaves is overwhelmed by fantasies of their life together in love. Of course, feelings of guilt also come to the fore when she realizes that she has betrayed her sister. Meanwhile, in London, Rose confesses she is not in love with Simon but is determined to go through with the wedding for the family's sake. Back at the castle, Cassandra decides to pull her father out of his funk. Always a believer in his talent, she comes up with a plan that cracks the shell of his reserve and opens him up to new possibilities.
I Capture the Castle is a well-realized tale of one sensitive young girl’s coming of age. The screenplay by Heidi Thomas is delightfully complicated as it explores the many manifestations of intimacy among young people and within families. It is filled with eccentric characters and deft cross-cultural insights into the vast differences between the blunt Americans and the down-and–out English family. We can’t share the details of the final resolution of the relationship between Rose and Simon but, in the end, all works out well for the two unsophisticated sisters.
Kudos are in order for the winsome performance by Romola Garai as Cassandra whose emotional education is enticing and realistic. Equally pleasurable is the cinematography of Richard Greatrex in the Welsh countryside.
The DVD features an audio commentary with director Tim Fywell, screenwriter Heidi Thomas, and producer David Parfitt, that ably covers all aspects of adapting the movie. There are also a few deleted scenes and an interview with Romala Gari.