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The film follows 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, and the fortunes of her eccentric family, struggling to survive in a decaying English castle. Her father is desperate to repeat the spectacular success of his first novel, but hasn't written a word for 12 years; her exquisite sister Rose can only rail against their fate, and their Bohemian step-mother Topaz is a nudist and no help at all. Salvation comes in the form of their American landlord Simon Cotton and his brother Neil. Although initially repelled by Simon, Rose is determined to make him fall in love with her and succeeds. A wedding is arranged and Cassandra is left on the sidelines as everyone around her is drawn into a maelstrom of interconnected relationships. But events spiral out of control, and before the summer ends she will experience frustrated desire, first love, and a broken heart. Written by
Manorbier Castle in Tenby, Wales, which was used for many of the shots of the Mortmain family's castle, had a moat that had not been used for many years. For the shots of Cassandra and Neil swimming in the moat, large amounts of clay were brought in to make the moat watertight. It was then filled from tankers of water brought from elsewhere, because the local water supply could not supply the large amount needed. See more »
Rose sends Cassandra a bottle of what appears to be Penhaligon's Bluebell perfume for her 18th birthday. According to the Penhaligon's website, the Bluebell perfume was first manufactured in 1978, whereas the film takes place around the early 1940s. See more »
How many viewers of "I Capture the Castle" have a legal background and understand the humor underlying the family name of the central characters, "Mortmain?" Literally, "mortmain" means "Dead Hand" and in law it denotes the attempt of a person to control his property postmortem. The humor here is that the paterfamilias, James Mortmain (well played by Bill Nighy) is a dried up author who hasn't penned a word since a successful novel of twelve years past. He claims to be working on a new book, an assertion that may be face-saving but is of dubious credibility. James has a past that the family neither wishes to remember nor can face seeing its reappearance (can't reveal what that is, can I?).
When still at the top of his game Mortmain and his then wife (who later dies, no foul play here) and his two little girls stumbled upon a rodent infested castle which he leased.
Jump quite a bit ahead to a now remarried Mortmain who lives in the still unrestored castle with his new, young, artist wife, Topaz (the beautiful, funny and accomplished Tara Fitzgerald) and his two teenage daughters, an appropriately mischievous little son and a sort of retainer in farm clothes, young Stephen.
The family is now, as the English say, "on their uppers."
Rose (Rose Byrne) is a gorgeous redhead solely obsessed with marrying out of the castle into the squirearchy or at least the solvent. Younger sister Cassandra (Ronola Garai) is engagingly wise, funny and bewildered at the changes that overtake her family when two young Americans succeed to the ownership of a manor that encompasses the castle (for which rent is long overdue). The sisters' close, interdependent relationship is warmly portrayed.
So Rose pursues one of the Americans, Cassandra deals with first love, spurning one suitor while secretly pining for another. An interweaved subplot has Topaz and then Cassandra desperately acting as James's muse, seeking to ignite what may well be the drenched sparks of a one-novel author.
As would be expected of a drama set in England in the 1930s before the hideousness of war returned are the inevitable class clashes, both economic and trans-Atlantic. What would a film like this be without a formal dining room scene replete with persiflage and the ominous threat of words said that can not be retracted?
"I Capture the Castle" has a strong cast but Cassandra is the centerpiece as she shows developing resolve and growth. Her appeal is irresistible. She's the younger sister many have fantasized but few have had. Ms. Garai is marvelously believable.
Yes, the film is in the Merchant/Ivory and Masterpiece Theatre vein but what's wrong with that? I liked most of the characters and rooted for calm but troubled Cassandra and frenetic but basically good Rose.
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