Directed by Tim Fywell, starring Romola Garai, Rose Byrne, Henry Thomas, Marc Blucas, Bill Nighy, Tara Fitzgerald, Sinéad Cusack, Henry Cavill, Joe Sowerbutts
Based on Dodie Smith's classic coming of age novel, 'I Capture the Castle' is a charming, old-fashioned treat. A quality cast is headed by newcomer Romola Garai playing the central role of Cassandra, an awkward diary-writing duckling who does her blossoming during the course of a tempestuous, life-changing summer in the 1930s.
17-year-old Cassandra lives in a crumbling Suffolk castle with her unusual family; stunningly beautiful elder sister Rose (Byrne), egg-headed little brother Thomas (Sowerbutts), her author father James Mortmain (Nighy) and bohemian nudist stepmother, Topaz (Fitzgerald), who has a penchant for dying things green. Mortmain's acclaimed debut novel was published 20 years earlier but he has suffered a monumental case of writer's block ever since and his dwindling royalties, the family's only source of income, are starting to dry up.
When their undemanding landlord, Sir William Cotton, shuffles off this mortal coil they face eviction, but salvation arrives in the form of his eligible American grandsons. The heir to the estate is the WASP-ish Simon (Thomas) who moves into the nearby Scoatney Hall with his rugged younger brother Neil (Blucas, better known as the demon-fighting Reilly in 'Buffy') and their socialite mother Mrs Cotton (Cusack, looking like she's thoroughly enjoying herself). Their arrival sparks off a complex series of love entanglements involving the Cotton brothers, the Mortmain sisters and garden boy Stephen (Cavill), which ensures that no-one will escape untouched.
The story is narrated by the observant, but innocent Cassandra as she humorously documents the actions of her eccentric family. She is also the romantic heart of the story, as befits a girl brought up in a moated castle. That castle, which on first sight to the small Cassandra, "seemed like a grand and glorious place", has a strong presence throughout, whether it's bathed by sunshine and surrounded by swans or crawling with rats in the rain. Like 'The Heart of Me', 'I Capture the Castle' is evocative of a particular type of old-fashioned 'tween-wars Englishness, captured magnificently by cinematographer Richard Greatrex (Oscar nominated for 'Shakespeare in Love').
Bill Nighy plays his usual role of languid loser James Mortmain with aplomb and Rose Byrne turns what could have been a one-dimensional stereotypical role into a sympathetic human being. The film does lose its momentum towards the end but, by that stage, you're so caught up in the lives of the characters that it just about manages to coast along.
Although 'I Capture the Castle' is set in an alien time when a marriage could be a passport to a better life and a first kiss life-changing, Cassandra herself is an endearing and engaging heroine who ultimately refuses to settle for "third hand and second best". A film to cherish.