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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
I Capture the Castle (2002)

"I am never going to get married. Life is dangerous enough."
- Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: December 28, 2003

Stars: Marc Blucas, Rose Byrne, Sinead Cusack, Tara Fitzgerald, Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Henry Thomas
Other Stars: David Bamber, Henry Cavill, James Faulkner, Sarah Woodward
Director: Tim Fywell

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for brief nudity
Run Time: 01h:53m:00s
Release Date: December 23, 2003
UPC: 043396025943
Genre: romance

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Jane Austen would have had a field day manipulating the cast of misfits that populates Dodie Smith's beloved British novel I Capture the Castle. Trapped in a stark, majestic stone fortress with nary a shilling to their name, the Mortmain family muddles through their empty lives, never addressing the problems that threaten to destroy them. There's James (Bill Nighy), the eccentric father and once celebrated novelist, who hasn't written a word in 12 years; Rose (Rose Byrne), his gold-digging eldest daughter who's willing to do anything and marry anybody to escape her impoverished, reclusive existence; Cassandra (Romola Garai), the introverted younger daughter on the cusp of womanhood, who passionately chronicles her family's activities while struggling with her own mixed-up romantic longings; Thomas (Joe Sowerbutts), the nerdy young son whose penchant for facts and figures keeps the family financially afloat better than any adult; and Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), the free-spirit, thirty-ish stepmom who relieves stress by standing naked in open fields.

Although the prim Austen might well have blushed at nudity, she relished examining poor English families who rely on upwardly mobile marriages for economic security and ultimate happiness, using the premise to great effect in both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Novelist Smith (who also wrote One Hundred and One Dalmatians, of all things) updates I Capture the Castle to the mid-1930s, but it seems society in the British hinterlands hasn't changed since Austen's time.

With a heaping helping of romance and a dash of offbeat comedy, I Capture the Castle follows the rocky, amorous lives of the Mortmain family and their quest to quell years of dysfunction and misery. Their bleak prospects take an optimistic turn when the death of their landlord brings his two eligible sons to the English countryside. The elder, Simon Cotton (Henry Thomas), is the estate's executor and more desirable "catch," and though Rose doesn't particularly fancy him, she flirts outrageously in order to turn his privileged head. His less serious and more dashing brother, Neil (Marc Blucas), sees through Rose's scheme and seeks to protect Simon and the family fortune.

All this transpires through Cassandra's luminous 17-year-old eyes, and her moving coming-of-age—filled with all the standard teen euphoria and heartbreak—forms the crux of the film. Attracted by the Mortmain's young, hunky caretaker (Henry Cavill) while fighting feelings for the sensitive, intellectual Simon, Cassandra must also deal with her sister's scheme to snare Simon, as well as her father's coldness and professional torment. The pressures often become too much to bear, but Cassandra takes solace in her diary and learns to gracefully accept what life throws her way.

Romance aficionados will find themselves utterly seduced by this musical partners yarn, but the uneven story often sputters and stalls, with perhaps too many threads vying for attention. The broad character canvas lends the film a cozy literary feel and provides rich dramatic structure, but director Tim Fywell (in his feature film debut) often struggles to juggle all the elements. First-rate performances enhance the drama, with Garai especially winning in her dual capacity of narrator/central character. The success of I Capture the Castle hinges on her portrayal, and the young actress beautifully balances Cassandra's conflicting emotions, raging hormones, and undying family loyalty.

Yet whenever the narrative slows, the breathtaking English scenery comes to the rescue and keeps attention riveted to the screen. The glorious cinematography of Richard Greatrex (who also photographed Shakespeare in Love and Mrs. Brown) captures the splendor of both the pastoral Welsh landscapes and ornate interiors of the Cotton estate. Every scene is artistically composed and presented, and often fools the viewer into believing I Capture the Castle possesses more depth than the wispy story actually contains.

Far more thought-provoking may be the reasons behind the film's ludicrous R rating. Yes, "brief nudity" does exist, but one could hardly term a prolonged shot of a topless Topaz standing in the rain even mildly offensive. Not a single curse word passes anyone's lips during the movie's entire 113 minutes, and only one tame sexual situation and the faintest hint of violence exist. I've seen far more lurid material in PG-13 films, and slapping an R rating on this harmless romance, while giving thrillers, shoot-'em-ups and sex comedies the family seal of approval only means the MPAA evaluation system requires a serious overhaul.

Wrongful rating or not, I Capture the Castle enjoys many lovely moments, fabulous cinematography, and believable portrayals, but the overall whole doesn't win us over like we hope it will. It's easy to appreciate this finely produced tribute to Jane Austen, but it can't quite compare with the author's classic originals.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Columbia has fashioned a gorgeous anamorphic transfer for this picturesque film, featuring excellent clarity and beautifully saturated colors. Rarely has the English countryside looked so lush and inviting, with the deep green fields and azure sky producing eye-popping contrast. Interiors shine as well—whether it's the dank, austere castle, a richly decorated country home or a swanky London flat, light and shadow exquisitely combine to produce sumptuous images. Just the slightest bit of grain adds warmth and maintains a film-like feel that's essential to the movie's success. Fleshtones, shadow detail and black levels are all outstanding, and a lack of edge enhancement or any other digital doctoring make this transfer an unqualified triumph.

The disc also includes an acceptable full-screen, pan-and-scan version, but this film deserves to be seen in its original widescreen format to fully appreciate the scenery's scope and beauty.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 audio track is more problematic. Dario Marianelli's captivating score receives first-class treatment, sweeping across all five speakers and drawing the viewer deeper into the film. Dialogue, however, takes a back seat to the music, and at times comes across muffled. A fair amount of mumbling accounts for some of the muddy lines (and the accents don't help either), but a more balanced mix would have yielded better results. Aside from the score, surround effects are limited, with (mild) directionality confined to the front channels.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mambo Italiano, Once Upon A Time in The Midlands, Whale Rider
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Tim Fywell, screenwriter Heidi Thomas, producer David Parfitt
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There is an engaging scene-specific audio commentary featuring director Tim Fywell, writer Heidi Thomas and producer David Parfitt. In typical English fashion, there's quite a bit of talk about the weather, with all three transmitting a sense of awestruck wonder whenever a brilliant sunny day appears on screen. Thomas discusses "how to identify sacred moments" of beloved novels and her attempts to remain true to them in the adaptation process, while the guys converse about their conscious decision to steer away from casting big Hollywood stars despite their built-in box office. The trio rails against the film's bogus R rating in the U.S., and can't understand how "non-sexual nudity" could offend. Both Fywell and Parfitt mention that their young children have seen the movie and suffered "no ill-effects."

Next, a rather bland, choppy interview with actress Romola Garai is peppered with the usual comments about character interpretation and working with fellow actors. Garai is candid about her relative lack of experience before filming began and her initial intimidation, but credits Fywell with helping her to relax and adopt a more spontaneous outlook. She also discusses how she approached her brief nude scene and the comfortable rapport she enjoyed with fellow actor Bill Nighy. The most annoying aspect of the eight-minute piece is the off-camera interviewer, who sounds as if she just inhaled helium before asking each question.

Four deleted scenes and an alternate ending, all strung together and totaling just over four minutes, follow. Most of the cut material slightly beefs up Cassandra's relationship with Neil, adding a rather misleading closeness, while the discarded ending is a bit more optimistic and uplifting. My wife preferred it to the original; I didn't. Unfortunately, Fywell did not record commentary for these scenes, so the reasons for their excision remain a mystery. (The alternate ending is briefly addressed on the main commentary track and all agree the sequence was rightfully cut.)

The film's original trailer (which gives away far too much plot information) and three other previews round out the disc supplements.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

I Capture the Castle possesses some of the most striking cinematography in recent memory, but it can't quite overcome the film's slight story and needless eccentricities. The ludicrous R rating will seriously limit its potential audience, but parents shouldn't think twice about sharing this film with the teens in their family. Girls especially will enjoy the romance and appreciate the coming-of-age themes, even if the plot fails them. While I can't recommend I Capture the Castle to all audiences, fans of movie romance and cinematic beauty should surely give Tim Fywell's well-made film a try.


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