Voices from Above
Hormones and Alienation
Opens Fri July 25 at the Seven Gables.
When a movie employs voiceover narration, what must be acknowledged is that the person telling the story is not just a device to get from plot point to plot point, but a distinct character in the film. In fact, the narrator is the most important character--and if you're not guessing just why she needs to voice this specific story right now, then there is no need for a narrator at all. The reason I Capture the Castle succeeds is because our narrator, Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai), is decisively fascinating. It's hard to tell why she needs to tell this story, but I figure she's just had her heart broken. By looking back on her 17-year-old self, she can justify her tumultuous emotions through the filter of adolescent hormones and the requisite sense of teenage alienation, longing, lust, romance, regret, and above all uncertainty. It's that kind of movie.
The story begins with a recollection of the day her father, fresh off the success of his first novel, moves the family into a rented castle, where he plans on writing masterpieces. Ten years later he's still suffering from writer's block, they've run out of rent money, and the ownership of the castle has switched over to a couple of Americans, Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil (Marc Blucas). And so the soap opera begins: Cassandra's older sister Rose (Rose Byrne) decides that Simon is her ticket out of this claustrophobic family; Simon's brother Neil is convinced that Rose is just a gold digger; Cassandra gets her own crush on Simon while fending off the affections of a lovesick helper boy who's worked for the family for ages. It all plays so much better than it should because it's filtered through the sardonic voice of our lovely narrator.
Because it's set in the British 1930s, the natural comparison would be to Merchant Ivory films. That works only if you compare it to the Merchant Ivory films released before Miramax was bought out by Disney and decided to produce its own series of Gwyneth Paltrow period pieces, and before Merchant and Ivory became caricatures of their former selves. I Capture the Castle is a charming picture that is brave enough to eschew a pat happy ending for unresolved longing. My kind of film.