I Capture the Castle Review

The Mortmain family live in a castle deep in the English countryside. The father (Bill Nighy) is a famous writer who wrote a great novel 12 years ago and since then nothing, the seclusion of the castle failing to provide the inspiration so desperately sought after, particularly after an incident involving his wife and a cake knife that led to him spending a few months in prison. The rest of the Mortmain family are no less colourful. Father now lives with Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), a wild Bohemian artist who loves to run naked through the countryside (well, it is Tara Fitzgerald!), but the family are on the brink of poverty and desperation. The girls, Cassandra (Romola Garai), the diarist narrator of the story and Rose (Rose Byrne) have not exactly had a normal upbringing and know little of men, so when two handsome American brothers, Simon and Neil Cotton (Henry Thomas and Marc Blucas) arrive having inherited the estate, the girls lives are in a whirl, a marriage looks possible and the families prospects and social life starts to look more promising.

Based on Dodie Smith’s 1949 novel, the story is told very much from a young romantic girl’s point of view and this will please those who liked the tone of the original novel, but it is much less endearing being read out on the big screen. Cassandra narrates into her diary and the whole thrust of the film is concerned with trying to understand men, trying to work out how to attract men, wondering at the impression the girls are making and wondering when or even if they want to take the next big step. The film has nothing deeper or more meaningful to say than that. The girls swoon onto their beds, hugging each other and confessing into diaries dreamy female fantasies of walking with a lover through a wood of bluebells at dusk or fantasising of a honeymoon in Paris. The naïve diary narration is very irritating – "I’m feeling wretched. He really ought not to have kissed me" kind of nonsense. It is hopelessly out of date and doesn’t really have anything to say about real-life relationships and frankly I doubt it has anything to say beyond the fantasies of a 1940’s young middle-class girl.

I can see how the film would appeal to a certain audience – a young female audience and a certain American audience who might like to believe that all English people are quaint and eccentric and live in castles. It could also appeal to anyone who just likes well-made, beautifully photographed, romantic period-drama of the type that the BBC do so well - or with such unimaginative and comfortable smugness, depending on your point of view. It is the lack of anything distinctive that is my problem with the film. It’s perfectly acceptable period-drama TV mini-series fodder, an overly-romantic, naively scripted storyline with predictable dramatic design and plot resolution. The performances, with the exceptions of Tara Fitzgerald and Bill Nighy who are both superb, are amateur-dramatic style – over-emphasised and painfully obvious.

The picture quality is excellent – almost beyond reproach. Beautiful, warm, rich, deep colours, pitch perfect lighting and contrast. While the image is crystal clear, it is slightly soft, although this could be intentional to suit the nature of the film. Blacks are strong, solid and detailed. There is just a hint of grain and some background artefacts, but nothing that will trouble anyone. You couldn’t really expect the film to look much better than it does here. A very nice transfer.

The audio is also very good with good levels of balance between dialogue and musical score. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is used well, appropriately for the film – mainly front/centre based, occasionally widening out for background sound, but more often for the romantic sweeps of the music.

English hard of hearing subtitles are provided for the film, but not for the commentary or extra features.

With three people contributing to the commentary track – director Tim Fywell, scriptwriter Heidi Thomas and producer David Parfitt – there are not too many gaps and the commentary remains interesting and informative throughout. Most frequent point of conversation is on the choices made adapting a famous book to the screen and the responsibilities of getting it right. There is mention of deleted scenes which they hoped would be included on the DVD – alas, this is not the case on the Region 2, but they are on the Region 1 release, along with an alternative ending (and rather more appropriate cover art).

Interview with Romola Garai (8:04)
A short interview with the young lead actress on her experiences of making the film.

Trailer (2:00)
The trailer is included, 1.85:1 anamorphic.

I Capture The Castle will appeal to a certain type of audience – those who like well-made, well-played romantic period drama of The English Patient variety – but I found its peddling of fictional English stereotypes, unoriginal romantically contrived situations and stilted, naïve schoolgirl narration almost unbearable. For those who this appeals to, the DVD is superbly presented with excellent picture, sound and extra features.

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