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With: Romola Garai, Rose Byrne, Henry Thomas, Tara Fitzgerald, Bill Nighy, Sinead Cusack
Written by: Heidi Thomas, based on the novel by Dodie Smith
Directed by: Tim Fywell
MPAA Rating: R for brief nudity
Running Time: 113
Date: 01/11/2003

I Capture the Castle (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bland 'Castle'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I Capture the Castle is one of those movies in which the maincharacters talk endlessly about the great passions and burning fires oflove, but the movie itself so timid and restrained that it might makeyour eyelids feel heavy before it makes your heart feel light.

Based on a beloved novel by Dodie Smith (1896-1990), who also wrote the original 101 Dalmatians, I Capture the Castle follows the lives of an English family -- and specifically the two older sisters -- whose father has written a bestseller. The whole family moves to a castle in the middle of the countryside so that the father can work on his follow-up.

Years later, the girls' mother has died, and nothing has been written. Poor and hungry, the girls -- Cassandra (Romola Garai) and her older sister Rose (Rose Byrne) -- decide that they must marry rich in order to save the family. Cassandra, who narrates the film from her diary, is the sensible one and Rose is the wild, beautiful one.

James' muse and second wife Topaz (the adorable Tara Fitzgerald), who lives with the family, acts as a kind of stepmother and offers a breath of fresh air as well. She's a kind of free-spirited hippie who loves to stand naked in the rain and cares more about the creative process than anything else.

Desperate and during a particularly dry period, Rose invokes one of the castle's stone gargoyles for help, and though her wish is apparently granted, the movie forgets to follow up on this supernatural angle.

Fortunately, the American brothers who own the family's land turn up, and they're both rich, handsome and single. Neil (Marc Blucas) is roguish and slightly barbaric, while Simon (Henry Thomas) is darker and more sensitive.

And thus begins the love quadrangle. After the girls primp and pretend to be high class, Simon proposes marriage to Rose. But Cassandra is actually in love with Simon, and Neil has his own plans. Plus, a handsome and dedicated family manservant (Henry Cavill) has his eyes on Cassandra.

A veteran of television movies, director Tim Fywell makes his theatrical debut here. And while Garai and Byrne act their little hearts out, spilling anguish and passion out of every pore, Fywell doesn't seem to know how to handle it. He lamely plunks the camera down for a dull medium shot every time, saving his sweeping vistas for the green hills located outside the castle walls.

He's also baffled by the acting technique. He guides his actors to read the book's prose by reading it instead of speaking it. And nobody told poor Marc Blucas that he was making a movie and not a play; he projects and enunciates every line reading at the top of his voice.

Still, in spite of the arrestingly boring presentation, it's not hard to see why Smith's original story is such a source of delight. The setting alone is fairytale-ish enough that you get swept up in the characters and their situation. We want to call out to the wild-haired author, James Mortmain (Bill Nighy) and get him to "write! Write, for goodness sake!" We don't even mind so much that Rose continues to look lovely in her naturally curly red hair even while starving to death.

No, I Capture the Castle plays a little like that tingle you get when you meet someone special and you fail to do anything about it. The tingle is nice in itself, but it could have been much more.

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