I Capture the Castle (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I mentioned some weeks ago that Love Actually was not just a Hugh Grant movie, but was ALL Hugh Grant movies rolled into one. By the same token, I Capture the Castle is not just a film of a juvenile romance novel. It is a film of all juvenile romance novels. I mean the lobby poster for this sucker should feature Fabio shirtless in front of a castle.


Tara Fitzgerald shows her breasts while wandering around outside in a rainstorm.

Get this plot:

The story is told by an 18 year old girl through her diary, starting with the time when her brilliant author of a father moved the family into a picturesque old English castle in the 1920s. Except for one sister, each of the members of the family is brilliant, and each matches his or her genius with eccentricity. The one sister who is not a genius, is beautiful beyond imagining.

The father is not writing. The stepmother is not selling her paintings. Since they are eccentric types, not the kind who work as shop clerks, and since they live out in the countryside where there is no meaningful employment anyway, they live a life of genteel poverty, or at least as genteel as is possible without any money in a 600 year old castle.

As it turns out, they are only renting the castle, and they are about to be evicted in the 1930s when a turn of fate takes control of their landlord's estate from some impersonal bankers to a family of very rich Americans who come to England to check out their newly inherited English assets. The principal new landlords are two very handsome and single young men, who take one look at the poor girls (the diary writer and her too-beautiful-for-words sister), and decide that eviction is not in their immediate future.

Oh, yeah. Did I mention that the gardener is the greatest, most humble man in the world, has worked for the family without wages for the past seven years, and is so good looking that he makes Brad Pitt look like Marty Feldman?

From that point on, you can guess how it develops. Three pleasant and handsome young men, two eligible young women. Rich men, poor but beautiful women. Each of the five falls in love with one of the others, and of course none of them loves anyone who loves back in return. Also, stepmother and father get involved with some romantic flings of their own.

You have the ingredients there for a really sucky film, what I call a "so" film, because they are usually characterized by excessive use of the emphatic "so" and the even more emphatic "ever so", as in "I do so love horses, Uncle Nigel", or "I do so want him, ever so much".

DVD info from Amazon

  • two versions: full screen (full frame) and widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1

  • director's commentary

  • brief deleted scenes

As you can imagine, I was prepared to throw up a few times during the screening, and I had barf bags handy, but they were never necessary. In fact, it is a pretty good movie. I liked the characters. The script is witty, and even the sappiest parts felt authentic enough that I never felt a break in the dramatic illusion. It's a movie about nice people trying to do the right things. OK, it's fluff, but I just let it flow over me, and it wasn't bad at all.

Sidebar: Bill Nighy must be the most underrated actor in the business, now that Sam Rockwell is highly regarded. Nighy is kind of a rough-around-the-edges version of Peter O'Toole: kinda dotty, kinda rhetorical, able to handle eccentricity and genuine moments equally well, very comfortable with sentimental moments, and hilarious when the script calls for it.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 3.5/4

  • General UK consensus: a bit better than two and a half stars, but no bad reviews at all. Mail 8/10, Telegraph 7/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 6/10, Sun 5/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 8/10, BBC 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • Box office: about a million in the USA, about four million overseas. Disappointing results for a film with a fairly large budget (eight million dollars).
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. I suppose most people reading these words are not readers of Romance Novels, but if you do like that kind of material, this one is good.

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