Friday, April 2, 2010

I Capture the Castle (2003)

I love this movie.

It's going to be hard for me to write about I Capture the Castle much beyond that, but this movie is a gem. I think, despite good reviews, it was overlooked it when it came out because it was a smaller period piece about a teenage girl, but it's beautiful and also a lot of fun without ever sacrificing the emotions.

Based on a novel by Dodie Smith (who is best known for writing The Hundred and One Dalmatians), the story centers on the narrator, a thoughtful, intelligent teenage girl named Cassandra (Romola Garai), who lives with her family -- beautiful older sister Rose (Rose Byrne), nerdy younger brother Thomas (Joe Sowerbutts), artsy step-mother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald) and distant father James (Bill Nighy) -- in a castle in 1930s England. They are a poor but artistic family -- James wrote a novel several years ago to much acclaim, and Topaz is a free-spirited who is first seen dyeing all the family's clothes green. The family broke and so Rose longs to marry someone rich to help her family.

As if on cue, brothers Neil (Marc Blucas) and Simon Cotton (Henry Thomas) appear at the castle. Although they've been raised in America, the castle is theirs by inheritance.

What follows is a movie that's about "people" (as my mom used to tell me when I was a child and I'd ask what movies were about). You know going into this that Cassandra is going to grow up, but her journey is still beautiful to watch. What follows is a sensitive, emotional portrait of what it's like to be a teenage girl becoming a young woman -- no matter what time she's in.

Cassandra is a wonderful, infinitely watchable heroine. While she's the "plainer" one (compared to Rose, anyway), as played by Garai, she's intriguing and appealing. The brothers are instantly attracted to Rose, sure, but it's easy to understand why they also feel drawn to Cassandra. While Rose isn't presented as flaky or stupid, Cassandra's quiet wit and intelligence gives her strength. She's the soul of her family and they all know and rely on her for it.

The time period is also beautiful presented -- there's an obvious class line between Cassandra's family and the Cotton's -- and I like how Rose quickly embraces the upper-class lifestyle even though it seems to suppress where she came from, who she actually is. The brothers are also well-drawn. Neil is a cowboy, more or less -- the essential American who feels uncomfortable in England and Simon is much more of an intellectual Romantic. It's easy to see why the sisters are drawn to them, and why they're drawn to sisters.

But as Cassandra weathers family drama and falling in love, she also finds out who she is -- and more importantly, who she deserves to be. She's the kind of teenage girl -- and woman -- we should see more of on screen.

This is a movie that I'm glad to have in my life. I recommend it to everyone I know. I love it that much.

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