"I hate this place. I’d burn it down if we had any matches"
The great British countryside, you can’t beat it. And what could be better than residing in a genuine castle amidst the lush green splendour? Well ten years of frugal living has certainly taken its toll. Cassandra, the narrator/diarist/chronicler of the piece has had a tough time of it – her novelist father hasn’t written for years (the result being that his royalty cheques are drying out and they are two years behind on the rent), her stepmother (not wicked) Topaz has naturist tendencies and a poor grasp of fabric dyeing techniques, while sister Rose is contemplating prostitution as a way out of her predicament. Still there is hunky lackey Stephen about the house; he works for free, but probably because he’s got the hots for our heroine. However things are about to change as Neil and Simon Cotton, who inherited the estate the family live on, have arrived from America. They are rich, good looking and have the power to turn the family out of their unusual home…
Based upon Dodie Smith’s novel this has all the potential of being a conventional commendable BBC costume drama – worthy but dull. Fortunately the BBC have done a handsome job of bringing vitality to the tale with its matter-of-fact quirkiness and easy on the eye scenery. All the cast perform admirably (although Marc Blucas, inexplicably top-billed, is pretty creepy) and the film never sinks into saccharine idealism or mawkishness, no mean feat when telling the tale of a family facing starvation. Overall this is a fine adaptation, filled with incident but never overwhelmingly so. The ‘writer’s block’ scenario may be old hat but here it seems fresh when blended with blossoming romance, family dilemmas and class divides across the Atlantic.
The addition of proto-hippie Topaz (a splendid performance from Tara Fitzgerald) into the equation leads to some of the film’s more bizarre moments and her faux-paganism even feeds into Cassandra’s desperate attempts to bring luck by means of naked sunbathing or invoking fire ceremonies. Most of the events in the story have dual purposes, working both thematically and narratively. An amusing but seemingly throwaway episode involving the bizarre acquisition of fur coats left to the sisters as their inheritance actually provides the catalyst for much of the film. It’s this sort of characteristically British eccentricity that generates the charm that permeates the film. Overall then a light, amiable well scripted film that never cheats.
In a slight aside to differing acceptability on either side of The Pond, I Capture The Castle was rated PG by the BBFC and yet received a restraining R rating from the MPAA! The DVD comes with a commentary track and a short interview with Romola Garai about her role in the film.