Beauty in the Movies: I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle is one of my favorite books ever, and thankfully this 2003 film adaptation actually gives Dodie Smith’s much-beloved novel its due respect.

Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai) is an 18-year-old girl living with her eccentric family in a crumbling castle in 1930s England. Her father (Bill Nighy) wrote one incredibly successful and important novel, but has since produced nothing, leaving the family in utter poverty.

Cassandra’s beautiful-but-shallow older sister, Rose (Rose Byrne), is desperate to escape their hopeless existence, so when two American men show up on their doorstep having just inherited the land on which the castle resides, she finally sees her chance. With the encouragement of their nudist, muse-like, stepmother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), Rose sets about entrapping a wealthy husband.

Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil (Marc Blucas) Cotton are rich, attractive, young men, and upon their arrival the Mortmain family is instantly thrown into turmoil. What follows is a story of class, family, coming-of-age, and romance. Cassandra is confused not only by her feelings for the Cottons but also for Stephen Colley (played by Henry Cavill, the new Superman). Stephen is the incredibly attractive son of the Mortmain’s former chef who acts as a handyman to the family and is deeply in love with Cassandra.

Isn’t he just way too handsome? Cassandra’s rejection of sweet, noble, gorgeous Stephen can be somewhat frustrating, but it serves to make her character much more interesting.

I Capture the Castle is a unique story, so don’t expect a typical romantic comedy or predictable characters. Cassandra is an unusually uncommon character. If I would make one criticism of this film as compared to the book it would be that she is even more of a creative, smart, young woman than the movie portrays, especially as compared to Rose whose main appeal is her beauty. In the book Rose is less likeable, and Cassandra’s relationship with her all the more complex because of it—as is often the case with family.

I Capture the Castle depicts perfectly what it feels like to be a confused teenage girl. The heartbreak of first love, the obsession of it, and the humor too, all make this a timeless tale. There is so much beneath the surface of this story, and in some ways it is a direct response to the novels of Jane Austen.

Rose seeks the traditional solution out of her impoverished life—a wealthy husband. Cassandra however, is of the first generation of women who could make their own destiny without a man by supporting themselves. Though some might find it lacking in romance, it was a very new idea for its time, and it holds an allure all its own.

This film is so beautifully shot, acted, and adapted I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s a story about growing up, finding inspiration, and living in a family that others might not understand. The Mortmains are unconventional to say the least, but they support each other’s choices and love one another in a way that transcends the drama they find themselves faced with.

Cassandra describes the characters around her with such wit and insight we can’t help but be drawn into her world. She is a modern woman, but she is only just coming to that realization, so the true pleasure is witnessing her figure that out for herself.

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11 Comments

Filed under Beauty in the movies

11 responses to “Beauty in the Movies: I Capture the Castle

  1. mkz201

    Oh, but read the book! The movie is wonderful, but the book! So, so good.

    Also, I think you might be being a little unfair to Rose – she is only a little older than Cassandra and just as lost.

    And Henry Cavill is just so dreamy.

    • Justine

      Well, maybe I’m hard on Rose, but in the book you get the impression she is totally full of shit and self-centered. In the movie it seems like she is more of a free-spirit and getting married for the good of her family.

      Megan, in case you weren’t already in love with Henry, his wiki page says if he wasn’t an actor he would be an Egyptologist—he would make a good Emerson don’t you think?!

  2. Henry Cavill: just saw him in the Tudors and yes, he is sooo soooo dreamy!

  3. jennifer

    OK, I think this is probably unfair of me to say, but I dislike Romola Garai because they cast her in the “sequel” to Dirty Dancing. You know, the one the original director, Patrick Swayze, and everyone else didn’t want to make.

    • Justine

      She is really good in this film though, please don’t blame her for taking a role in a very silly movie!

  4. haren

    I remember it being a very pretty movie and full of English charm

  5. The visuals are way more beautiful than I remember! I think you really sell it, you’ve made me want to watch it again.

  6. This looks so amazing – plus the clothes can’t be beat. :P I have the book but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. This must be remedied…

  7. You have immpecible taste in movies. Have you seen the series The Good Life? There is some fairly groovy fashion going on there. I’ve just reviewed the actual tv series on my own blog – http://www.bespokehome.blogspot.com. Am hugely inspired by yours!

  8. HY

    This is one of my favorite books of all time. I re-read every summer. Where did you find that movie poster by chance? I’ve never seen this version and I would love to get one to frame and hang in my apartment.

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