Do the British have an unending supply of novels about wise-beyond-their-years young women (unjustly poor or ordinary, of course) who have slightly dim older sisters who can’t see love in front of their eyes while all the time these younger women suffer for their sisters’ happiness? It certainly seems so.
I Capture the Castle, the film, plays like a combination of Cold Comfort Farm and Pride & Prejudice. It’s an incredibly long film, filled with two and three minute scenes set days or weeks apart, and chock-full of bad performances. The lead, Romola Garai, is excellent–though her performance isn’t enough to recommend the film, as it’s saddled with terrible diary-writing narration (filling the diary seems to be the present action of the film, but it’s decided on later and the film never takes advantage of that reasonable structure). Bill Nighy, as Garai’s father, a troubled novelist, is great. Nighy’s often great in outlandish roles, but Castle is the best work from him I’ve seen, he’s fantastic. Also good–surprisingly, as I haven’t seen him in anything for ten years–is Henry Thomas. Well, I suppose I saw him more recently in some of Cloak & Dagger, before I turned it off.
The rest of the cast is not good. Oh, except the precocious little brother. I queued the film for Rose Byrne, who plays the dull older sister. Given the rest of the cast, she’s not so bad, but she’s not any good in Castle. Tara Fitzgerald is bad. Sinéad Cusack is bad. Marc Blucas–as Thomas’ brother–is so bad he’s laughable. Even if these actors–Byrne aside–weren’t so bad, Castle probably wouldn’t be any better. It’s so shallowly written. Ah, forgot another one–almost Superman Henry Cavill is bad too. Anyway, the writing (I assume from the source novel) gives the characters no depth and gives the audience little to identify with except the occasional humor and the dreadfulness of being a wise-beyond-her-years English young woman who’s sacrificing her happiness for her older sister’s. Her dim older sister’s.
The director lensed the film in 2.35:1, which tends to require a lot of talent when the subject matter is people. He hasn’t got the talent (from his filmography, it looks like he’s done mostly TV movies and Castle was his only chance for glorious Panavision), but the English country-side scenery is pretty. At best, Castle (along with Dirty Dancing 2) will be an odd citation in Garai’s someday excellent filmography. At worst, it’ll be Bill Nighy’s best performance.
Directed by Tim Fywell; written by Heidi Thomas, based on the novel by Dodie Smith; director of photography, Richard Greatrex; edited by Roy Sharman; music by Dario Marianelli; production designer, John-Paul Kelly; produced by David Parfitt; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Starring Henry Thomas (Simon), Marc Blucas (Neil), Rose Byrne (Rose), Romola Garai (Cassandra), Bill Nighy (Mortmain), Tara Fitzgerald (Topaz), Henry Cavill (Stephen), Sinéad Cusack (Mrs. Cotton) and Joe Sowerbutts (Thomas).