I Capture the Castle
Bill Nighy, Romola Garai, Tara Fitzgerald, Rose Byrne, Henry Thomas, and Marc Blucas
Directed by Tim Fywell
Screenplay by Heidi Thomas
Set in 1930’s England, Cassandra Mortmain lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Her journal records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother, Thomas, and her eccentric novelist father who suffers from writer’s block. However, all their lives are turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time. Only it’s not that simple as Cassandra fights with her emotions. Being only 17, she is so confused at these ‘first feelings’ but at the same time she is aware of influences around her which beckon better times for her and the family. (‘Consciously naive’) at times, she isn’t quite sure what is happening to them, as a family, why it’s happening to them and how to deal with the impending changes. She constantly updates her journal to try and rationalize her feelings and those of Rose, Topaz, Stephen, the two Cotton brothers and of course her ever worrisome Father!
First of all, a bit of background: The book took four years to complete and was first published in 1948. Dodie Smith, at that time, was already a successful playwright who had made her way to Hollywood writing screenplays for movie studios. After writing the first few pages, MGM wanted to by-pass the book and turn it into a script. The only thing was that Dodie would have to dictate the rest to a secretary. I am so glad she refused; how was she going to dictate such a wonderfully written book? *shudder*. Many were convinced that it should be a film after its publication and during the 1950’s it was adapted for the stage but it was the wrong time for it to be received in the way that was predicted. ‘Castle’ was actually so good, that it was practically unfashionable for Britain during the 50’s.
Disney eventually owned the rights but it never seemed the right time for them to adapt the book. (Maybe a blessing!). By the time Disney wanted to produce the film version of 101 Dalmatians in the 1990’s (Also written by Dodie Smith in the 50’s), the executor of Dodie’s estate (She had passed away in 1990), Julian Barnes, successfully negotiated a return of the ‘Castle’ rights. (Thank heavens!).
So, to the movie itself:
Having read the book and loving it, I was fortunate enough to have a friend who let me borrow the film so I could see the movie adaptation, which I did with some hesitance. I say that because the way the book unfolds is literary genius and is a classic. I was hoping the movie version wasn’t going to dissolve the images in my head which Dodie Smith had put there with her words.
My thoughts on the movie:
As I said, I absolutely love the book, but, I have to say this movie is a brave adaptation. It’s from 2003, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it at the time or since it was recommended to me as a novel at the beginning of this year! (Where have I been?!).
Although it is excellent work, It does leave out some details, and I’m not surprised at that considering the wonderful detail in the book. I was waiting for certain parts to come… but for me they didn’t seem to arrive. I realise that to keep to a time schedule for a movie, some crucial and personal moments seem to have been generalised for the film. That’s just my personal view, however, I did enjoy it as a whole. You know that feeling, when you know something so well, and you see an adaptation play out in front of you; the familiarity makes you want to shout out at what happens next out of excitement. (I found myself doing that). Then you start pulling it to bits out of mild disappointment when things seem to be missed out or out of sequence – but at the same time you don’t really want to because you love it and are enjoying it. It left me feeling a little like that, but at the same time applauding the whole thing anyway!
If you love the book, and have read and re-read it for years, please be patient and gentle with it. Having said that, you will enjoy it as a film/movie, whether you know the book or not. It is a very good adaptation and an amazing story. It’s brilliantly written as a screenplay, considering Heidi Thomas had Dodie Smith looking over her shoulder, as well as generations of ‘Castle’ fans. The movie’s redeeming features are the wonderful performances by Bill Nighy, Tara Fitzgerlad and Romola Garai (this was her first lead role), as well as the settings, photography and direction.
Romola Garai plays Cassandra perfectly; so much so that I’m pretty sure I had her in my head whilst reading the book, and before I knew she was in the film. Maybe the book reminded me of Attonement – (Romola played the grown up Bryony) And just like Stephen and Simon in ‘Castle’, I have to admit that I fell a little bit in love with Cassandra too!