Tag Archives: british

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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Beauty in the Movies: Sense and Sensibility

A few weeks ago I featured the film Clueless an update of Jane Austen’s Emma, only to realize that I’ve never featured a direct adaptation of an Austen novel into film. So this week I feature Ang Lee’s beautiful Sense and Sensibility which may not be as true to the novel as some Austen fans would like, but no doubt makes up for it with stunning visuals and amazing acting.

As Mr. Dashwood passes away, his last request is that his only son, John, will promise to take care of his step-mother and sisters who will inherit virtually nothing due to England’s Primogeniture laws which stipulate that land is passed down to only male heirs. Unfortunately, John’s greedy wife Fanny convinces him his sisters will do perfectly fine on their own. As a result Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) and her three daughters, Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emilie François) become strangers in their own home and must seek a new place to live.

Fanny’s brother Edward comes to visit while the Dashwoods prepare to abandon their home. Edward is nothing like his shallow, cruel sister and soon he and Elinor form a close friendship. Fanny, or course, disapproves and fearing the friendship will blossom into love makes sure Edward leaves before any such thing can happen. When Mrs. Dashwood’s wealthy cousin, Sir John Middleton, offers the women a cottage on his estate they are finally out of danger. Like most Austen, there are way to many characters and way too many plot twists to cover any more of the plot here, you’ll just have to check it out yourself, it’s worth it.

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel, in 1811, and was written under the pseudonym of “A Lady”. She was just 19 when she began what would become her first full length work, and some believe it is partially based on her relationship with her own sister Cassandra. While Elinor represents “sense” or a restrained and courteous disposition, Marianne’s character is representative of “sensibility” what we today would think of as sensitivity, or an overly emotional personality.

Both sister’s traits have their positive and negative aspects, but it does seem that Elinor’s restraint and patience win out while Marianne’s impulsive, sometimes inappropriate, behavior results in heartbreak and distress. Many Austen Biographers have argued over which of the two traits Austen saw as superior, or if she was ever sure of that answer herself. It is generally believed that Austen saw herself as free-spirited Marianne, and her sister as the more practical Elinor whom she looked up to greatly.

During this period in history, as well as many others, a woman’s search for a husband wasn’t what we think of it as today, it was an essential part of life. A woman being a spinster wasn’t awful because it meant she would be sad and lonely, but because she would be poor and most likely spend the rest of her life living off her relation’s generosity. Austen’s novels, though they deal heavily in romance, are also about the struggle to persevere.

If you were a woman born into the middle or upper classes you couldn’t simply go out and get a job, you had no options. The bechdel test fails in Austen, and in other places too, because the need for a husband was so much more than simply romance, it was in many ways a woman’s only hope and therefore a major part of the conversation among women at the time.

To think Austen reveled in the predicament women were in during her time is to completely miss the point, her characters are often in complete turmoil over their own fate, and Emma Thompson does a wonderful job of highlighting this aspect of female life in her adaptation (and in her performance as well). No one could read the novel, or watch the film, and believe that Elinor wouldn’t choose to go out and support her family if she could, but she is utterly repressed by the futility of her position.

Ang Lee’s naturalistic scenery, Jenny Beavan’s gorgeous costumes, and Emma Thompson’s insightful, funny, writing make this adaptation standout from others. There may be few of Jane Austen’s original words in the script, but the spirit of her characters and the cleverness of her storytelling are unmistakable and charming as ever.

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