In romantic comedy, family exists as one of the central ways to attract laughs. Usually this works to great success; after all, what is funnier than the simple quirks of the people the screenwriter has known longer than anyone else? But "I Capture the Castle" is drama. No matter how warm it may be, the idea is to have real human beings up on the screen, free of caricature. This is a family affair, or the end of one, and the romance is the spark.
When they were kids, Cassandra and Rose Mortmain (Romola Garai and Rose Byrne) made a big move from their regular house to a much more exotic home: an old castle in the English country. Their father, James (Bill Nighy) believed it would inspire his writing career to further creativity after his first hit. It has the opposite effect.
12 years later, it is the 1930's, and James has still not written anything. He is remarried to a woman named Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), as a dark accusation haunts his first marriage. This is the first year that he has not received any sort of pension for the success of his first novel. At the same time, the girls are on their way to becoming fully grown women. Two bank auditors visit the house: Simon Cotton (Henry Thomas) and Neil Cotton (Marc Blucas). It just so happens that the two are brothers. They arrive with their job on their minds, but they leave thinking about something completely different: Cassandra and Rose.
As the romance elements here begin to do their thing, its very interesting to put together what pieces the film is offering. For those who have seen it, notice how love scenes are short, fragmented, and almost voyeuristic. In other words, anything but romantic. There's a reason for this. As intimacy may begin to develop in a certain sequence, the film pulls away; whether the characters stay in the moment or not. This choice speaks loudly: this is not a film concerned with the prettiness and wonder of falling in love (cue the music). All we need to know is what it does to the girls after the matter. All the more power to "Castle" for possessing that kind of intelligence.
On top of that, the entire movie is seen through Cassandra's eyes. So while Rose may end up being the one falling head over heels, Cassandra is the one who really learns something. "I Capture the Castle" details its intentions with focus and clarity: Cassandra's coming of age story is about learning how to move on from her family life to that "other world". While Rose is away, she stays at home. Over the course of the movie, she is the only one objective enough to see what is making the family tick, and what makes it stop. Heidi Thomas' screenplay (based on the novel by Dodie Smith) makes it clear that this is the only way she can move away from her stationary life at home. Romola Garai's lead performance is courageous in the way it portrays the confusion of hopelessness; she readily admits she doesn't know where to go next.
But in the end, we feel like we've witnessed the complete maturation (and in effect, full creation) of a fictional character. While a few of the other subplots come to what are arguably shallow ends that offer closure, Cassandra's final onscreen moments are handled with the kind of maturity the character itself has. "I Capture the Castle" is a film not about happy endings, but about promise. A lot of the best endings, in many movies, are beginnings.