Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai), with classic English restraint, has tried to “keep a lid on things” while the rest of her family melodramatically flips theirs. The picturesque castle that they have called home for a decade has become a keep for her older sister Rose (Rose Byrne) who sees herself as the auburn-tressed Rapunzel of its rat-infested tower — but without the hope of being redeemed by a prince. Rose has threatened to “go on the streets” of faraway London. When their young, eccentric stepmother, Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald) cautions her that prostitution is hard work that wouldn’t suit her, Rose replies to the former artists’ muse and model, “You should know!” Rose despairs that she’s “beyond the reach of love.” But “love is a murderous thing,” not only for Cassandra, but for their father, James (Bill Nighy).
A dozen years before, Father was lauded as a literary genius for his novel, Jacob Wrestling. But after serving a prison sentence for something to do with his first wife and a cake knife, he hasn’t written a word and seems as hopelessly beyond the reach of Topaz’s inspiration as Rose feels she is from love.
But love rears its handsome head on the shoulders of the family’s young, loyal servant, Stephen Colley (Henry Cavill) and two American brothers, Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil Cotton (Marc Blucas) who’ve inherited the castle from a titled English relation. Rose makes a play to recapture the castle in a game of love whose goal is matrimony.
I Capture the Castle could trace its lineage back to another farcical British coming-of-age romance set in the 1930s: Cold Comfort Farm (1995) and even the novels of Jane Austen. But while it’s wittier than recent Hollywood teen romances, Castle tends more towards bland BBC melodrama than Farm’s more piquant comedy.
Castle is mostly well written and performed and gorgeously photographed. It’s consistently subtle as it travels from fairy tale to young adult romance and melodrama and as its plot line shifts the angles of its love triangles. The titular castle manages to become a symbol of the stumbling blocks to creativity, love and life that contrasts innocent fantasy with the corruption of sophistication.
By the end, it’s Cassandra who captures the castle while saving herself and her family from its keep and the perils of love. Though innocuous, I Capture the Castle ends up proving that an intelligent, well-crafted teen movie isn’t just a mythical beast.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W. of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].