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I Capture The Castle - Novel and Movie

Updated on September 5, 2014

I Capture The Castle - the Novel by Dodie Smith

If I had to name my favorite novel of all time, my answer would have to be 'I Capture The Castle' by Dodie Smith. This charming story was written by an author better known for '101 Dalmations', but don't let that deceive you. 'I Capture The Castle' is a more mature work that will appeal to teenage girls, to aspiring authors and all who appreciate skilled writing, and to every woman who remembers what it was to once teeter on the brink of adulthood.

Written in the voice of the heroine, the spirited but sensitive Cassandra Mortmain, the novel reads like a conversation with a delightful young friend. It is a conversation in which Cassandra will take you by the hand and let you not only live a while among her eccentric family but also share with her the unexpected experience of falling in love for the first time.

I first encounterd Cassandra and 'I Capture The Castle' when I was a young teen. It was a time when I had a huge appetite for books and worked my way steadily through the Young Adult section of the local library. However, out of all the books that came my way, this was the one that made the biggest impression on me. I fell for Cassandra and her family. Over the next 20 years, I forgot the title and author of the book, but the famous first line - "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" - stayed firmly in my memory.

A few years ago I rediscovered 'I Capture The Castle' when a wonderful film was made based on the novel. I had a strong feeling of deja-vu when I saw the title, and was even more excited to see the trailer. It was like meeting up with an old and dear childhood friend. And so it was that not only did I see the characters come to life on the screen, but I also bought myself a copy of the novel. This old friend is one that will be staying by my side to be read again and again.

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

I Capture The Castle - Novel - The Book

This is not your ordinary novel. For one thing, the narrator and her family live in a castle (partly ruined) in the rural countryside of 1930s England. For another, the intelligent young heroine and her larger-than-life family are poorer than church mice. At the beginning of the novel, they are on the edge of hopeless poverty, living on the wages of the only capable person in their household: the young and selfless orphan Stephen (who doubles as their servant in exchange for sharing their home).

Just when it seems that the Mortmain family is doomed, Fate steps in... in the guise of brothers Simon and Neil Cotton, brought up in the United States but heir to the local country estate. So begins a family plot to snare the eldest brother, Simon, for beautiful but clueless sister Rose. 17 year old sister Cassandra, who has no time for romantic nonsense, is meanwhile fending off the devoted attentions of Stephen and capturing unfolding events in her journal.

What the two sisters don't reckon on is that love is rarely so straightforward, and that their own hearts may just ruin the perfect plan.

I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle

I was totally captivated by this novel as a young teenager. Two decades on, the novel again draws me in and leaves me observing the adventures of the Mortmain family with affection and frustration. All through the keen eyes of the very likeable Cassandra.

If you don't want to take my word for it, the novel has 195 five-star reviews on Amazon. As just one of these said, it is the kind of book that leaves you with a warm glow for days after.


Cassandra Mortmain

The Narrator

Cassandra is one of fiction's most enchanting characters. She combines innocence with a quick wit, sometimes coming over as a little pretentious, but never dull. She is an aspiring novelist with a wonderful eye for detail, and reading the novel really does feel like peeking over her shoulder as she sits speed-writing in her journal in the most unlikely places. She spins enchanting tales that lift the plot from poverty and desperation and turn everything she sees to magic. Whether it is ruined stones, the first signs of Spring, or a trip to London, Cassandra can make anything she turns her attention to come to vivid life. But, like Jane Austen's Emma, she is so caught up in the lives of those around her that her own emotions take her by surprise.

Cassandra, in her own words:

"I am seventeen, look younger, feel older. I am no beauty but have a neatish face."

"I feel rather like a Bronte myself, writing by the light of a guttering candle with my fingers so numb I can hardly hold the pencil."

Rose Mortmain

Cassandra's sister

Rose Mortmain, at almost 21, is the beauty in the family. She is the one who seems to most miss their dead mother, and the one who suffers most at being isolated in a castle without the company of other young people or even the consolation of fine clothes and possessions. Her quick emotions and longing to experience life make the seclusion of her existence unbearable. This leads her to dramatic acts and wild gestures, such as threatening to sell her soul to the Devil in exchange for a little excitement.

Cassandra describes Rose:

"Rose looks particulary fetching by firelight because she is a pinkish person; her skin has a pink glow and her hair is pinkish gold, very light and feathery. Although I am rather used to her I know she is a beauty."

"Poor Rose hates most things she has and envies most things she hasn't."

The Mortmain Family

James, Topaz and Thomas

The girls' father, James Mortmain, once had a great success with a novel. However, after year upon year of writers' block, his family begin to despair of him ever doing more than shutting himself away in the tower with detective novels. The rest of the family tiptoe around his moods in their wavering belief in his genius.

Topaz is the name of the beautiful 29 year old step-mother who used to be an artists' model and is unashamedly eccentric. She plays the lute, is a hopeless if well-meaning substitute mother to the girls, and lends an air of drama to their lives.

Thomas is the 15 year old brother - a bright but otherwise ordinary boy who stays good-humored in the face of adversity, apart from occasional quarrels with his sisters.

The Men

Simon, Neil and Stephen

Simon and Neil Cotton are the brothers, brought up separately in different parts of the USA and only recently reunited, who come to England to claim Simon's inheritance. Here they become captivated by the Mortmain family - particularly Rose - in a turn of events that threaten to tear the two families apart.

Stephen Colly is a young man who has become absorbed into the Mortmain family after his own mother's death. Almost invisible to those he does so much to help, this working class boy who lives with them as a servant is the true gentleman of the novel. Both handsome and kind, he is the only member of the household with any common sense. He worships Cassandra, but she finds she cannot give her love where it is most deserved...

Did you like the way the story turned out? - Did Cassandra fall for the right person?

Here's your chance. If you could rewrite the novel, which of the young men would you have chosen for Cassandra to love?

Which of the men would have made the best match for Cassandra?

See results

A movie of a book is sometimes a disappointment. Not this one. The film captures all the charm and enchantment of the original novel with a perfectly chosen cast combined with beautiful cinematography.

The talented young British actress Romola Garai is a fresh-faced Cassandra, and is joined by Australian Rose Byrne who shares a first-name with her vivacious and flirtatious character.

Bill Nighy takes the role of the wild eyed, unpredictable James Mortmain. His flamboyant wife is played by Tara Fitzgerald, who while not matching the physical description of Topaz, doesn't fail to bring her other characteristics to life in dramatic detail.

The Cotton brothers are portrayed by Henry Thomas and Marc Blucas, with Henry Cavill as the handsome but out-of-luck Stephen Colley.

Although set in rural Suffolk, filming took place on the Isle of Man.

Trailer for I Capture The Castle

See a preview of this enchanting film closely based on the novel by Dodie Smith.

Follow the Story of Sisters Cassandra and Rose in I Capture the Castle - Watch it on DVD

Do YOU adore 'I Capture The Castle' - Or did it leave you cold?

On a scale of 1-7, what did you REALLY think?

See results

© 2009 Indigo Janson

Read the book? Seen the movie? - What did you think?

Submit a Comment

  • indigoj profile image

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @Meloramus: It's good to 'meet' another fan!

  • Meloramus profile image

    Meloramus 7 years ago

    One of my favourite books of all time!

  • profile image

    anonymous 7 years ago

    You make it sound worth while to read the book. Looking forward to reading it now.

  • LadyFlashman profile image

    LadyFlashman 7 years ago from United Kingdom

    I grew up in Suffolk and wish I had discovered this book as a teenager! I can't believe I haven't read this yet, it's going straight on the must read now list!

  • ElizaRayner profile image

    Eliza Rayner 7 years ago from Boulder, Colorado

    I have never even heard of this novel of film before but now I will have to read it for sure. thanks, it sounds lovely

  • Holley Web profile image

    Holley Web 7 years ago

    I have never read it, but now I HAVE to! What an excellent review! Thank you for the introduction.

  • clouda9 lm profile image

    clouda9 lm 7 years ago

    You have beautifully presented I Capture the Castle - I've just got to read it now! Book and then the movie ;)

  • indigoj profile image

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @Addy Bell: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Addy!

  • indigoj profile image

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @sittonbull: Yes, I would have to agree that this great read is one for the girls (and women) but love the fact that you called by here. Much appreciated.

  • Addy Bell profile image

    Addy Bell 7 years ago

    I'm always looking for more books to read. I'll have to find a copy of this one. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • KarenTBTEN profile image

    KarenTBTEN 7 years ago

    I read the book when I was very young, but not so young as when I read The Hundred and One Dalmations, the book that really imprinted Dodie Smith's name upon me.

    This is a very well done 'Squid Lit'.

  • justholidays profile image

    justholidays 7 years ago

    I haven't heard of this novel but I did a short research and found the French title. This is a book that I'll surely read when I'll have some time (after having read the two biographies that are waiting for me already, lol). Seems interesting and well, includes some indispensable components for me to read a book that is not a biography, memoires, Agatha Christie, Martha Grimes or Joseph Conolly: England, castle...

    This is a great review and a great job!


  • profile image

    HappySeasons LM 7 years ago

    I write this sitting in the kitchen sink is an interesting starting line for sure! Nice lens and I can see your passion for the book and the movie... good job. Matt :)