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I Capture the Castle

Victorian Gowns, Eligible Bachelors and a Crumbling Castle

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

By Marcy Dermansky

I Capture the Castle - Romola Garai

Romola Garai with book and castle

I am sad to write that I did not love, nor was I swept away by Tim Fywell's "I Capture The Castle." Set in the English countryside in 1932, the film has all the right ingredients: a castle, for one thing, a crumbling old lovely English thing with its very own turret and moat.

There is also an eccentric and intellectual family: the father (Bill Nighy), a writer blocked by his own past display of genius, his bohemian second wife Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), who poses nude in the rain and dyes the family clothes green for no good reason at all. There is the beautiful older sister Rose (Rose Byrne) who wants to marry into money, and the witty, younger brother Thomas (Joe Sowerbutts), a Harry Potter first cousin replete with round glasses who had the power to make me laugh, several times. Finally, this movie has the main, winning ingredient: seventeen year old Cassandra (Romola Garai), the middle child, plainer than her wild-haired sister, but still lovely. Smart. Controlled. She is the quiet observer. The serious girl huddled over her notebook, writing down the madness.

I am a sucker for characters like Garai's Cassandra. They are my favorites, starting in my preteens when I was introduced to Sybylla in Gillian Armstrong's 1979 film "My Brilliant Career." A young Judy Davis stars as the conflicted woman who finds herself caught up in a love affair and her writing career and chooses writing.

Like Cassandra in "I Capture The Castle," the financial constraints of the family weigh upon her, but Sybylla has the strength of character to remain true to herself.

I also love Jane Austen's mannered love stories in which a willful heroine risks her hopes of love and security by remaining true to her ideals. Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor) in Patricia Rozema's 1999 "Mansfield Park" is the perfect example. Fanny writes, she worries, she turns down the marriage proposal of a wealthy suitor. But in the end, she finds true love with her intellectual equal, her beloved cousin who appreciates Fanny not only for her winsome exterior, but the quality of her mind.

Cassandra belongs in this category of women; unfortunately, the script based on Dodie's Smith's 1949 novel does not do her justice. My disappointment in "I Capture The Castle" cannot be blamed on the Romola Garai. This young British actress was the best thing in last year's tepid film version of "Nicholas Nickelby" and equally convincing in the BBC production of George Elliot's "Daniel Deronda." In "I Capture The Castle," Garai transforms herself into a surprisingly plain creature for her first starring role.

(If you saw Garai in "Daniel Deronda," full figured in fetching Victorian underclothes, long flowing blond hair, you would understand.) She becomes Cassandra: smart, witty, detached but also earnest, vulnerable. She glows with the inner radiance of Sarah Polley. Garai is utterly convincing as the smart girl with the notebook. She does not get seduced by silk stockings and shiny party dresses like her older sister Rose. She is the one to root for. So when Cassandra swoons over her first kiss to her sister's fiancé (Henry Thomas), I swoon with her. If Cassandra wants love, I want her to have it.

Perhaps it is my fault for wanting more. Cassandra Mortmain is a complex, female character. She is in the possession of 147 pages and the courage to stand up to her tempestuous father when no one else can. She also has enormous poise when meeting strange young men while wearing nothing but a towel. But when the camera pans, the theme music swells, and the credits begin to fall, Cassandra is left alone at the top of her castle with her notebook, waiting for love. And nothing else.

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