"I am never going to fall in love. Life is dangerous enough," declares Cassandra (Romola Garais), the unusually grave narrator of I Capture the Castle, based on the 1946 novel by Dodie Smith. Cassandra's frequent narration ' taken from her diary entries ' introduces us to her shambling, bohemian family, the Mortmains: father (Bill Nighy), a novelist who, 10 years on, has yet to follow up his one, wildly successful book; stepmother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), an artist given to stripping naked in the countryside in an effort to contact her muse; and an older sister named Rose (Rose Byrne), a ravishing redhead going a little batty from their intensely isolated, impoverished existence at a crumbling Suffolk castle in the late 1930s.
That all changes when two American brothers ' the plainspoken, cowboyish Neil (Marc Blucas) and the elder, more serious-minded Simon (Henry Thomas) ' stumble onto their property one rainy night. They are the landowners of the estate the Mortmain castle is situated on, and they both become enamored of Rose, who sees a way out of poverty and her family's stifling eccentricity by way of marriage to Simon. Her plan to ensnare him is really quite ruthless, but Byrne's undeniable warmth takes the edge off her cold conniving. After all, a girl has to survive, and this way she can guarantee her family's continued subsistence as well.
At first, this is Rose's story as seen through the eyes of Cassandra, but eventually Cassandra enters the romantic fray too, despite her initial determination to steer clear of the whole thing. Newcomer Garais imbues the "ugly duckling" role of Cassandra with wisdom and humor, her sensibility a welcome contrast to Rose's theatrical hysteria. Cassandra loses some of that spunk when she starts to swoon, a state that calls for long walks, gloomy looks and frequent diary scribblings, all of which Tim Fywell's film is happy to accommodate.
Disappointingly, the American brothers, as portrayed by Blucas and Thomas, are stick-in-the-muds unworthy of Cassandra and Rose's sighing attentions ' but that's in keeping with reality, as a young woman's first love is rarely lavished on the right person. Falling in love with the wrong person makes for a far more toothsome melodrama, a fact this small, satisfying picture rightly recognizes.