11 April 2004
Reunited (and it feels so good)
No prospect is more daunting, I maintain, than meeting up, thirty-five years later, with your first love and this applies no less when the object of your devotion is purely fictional.
Just over a year ago, I said this:
Next month I have to come to grips with the BBC Films/Independent Distribution Partnership's production of Dodie Smith's late-Forties novel I Capture the Castle, a book I first read in high school and dust off every other year or so just to reacquaint myself with the residents of ruined Castle Godsend and to see if I'm still in love with Cassandra Mortmain. (I tend to be, shall we say, frustratingly constant in my devotion, particularly when it is not returned, which is almost always the case.)
I could boycott the movie on general principle, and there's always the chance that it won't play here at all after all, they may need extra screens for The Matrix Reloaded but even if I can avoid the theatrical release, I'll still have to contend with the eventual DVD. Fortunately, the canned synopsis floating around seems remarkably true to the storyline, and the Samuel Goldwyn company, which is distributing the film in the US, has a reputation for picking up the Good Stuff.
Indeed, the film did not play here in the hinterlands at all, and when the DVD was released in December, I ignored it for two months, contrived somehow to have it back-ordered for two months, and when it finally arrived this week, I stared at it for two days, almost afraid to pop the seal, lest all the connections I've made to the book all these years might be disrupted somehow by the visuals. Finally, late last night, I worked up the nerve and started the disc, promising myself I would not spend four minutes out of every five looking for insignificant yet pickable nits.
I'm not writing a detailed review here for that, I recommend this piece by Seattle's Three Imaginary Girls but I must state for the record that whatever fears I may have had were unfounded. The castle itself is just what I envisioned; the countryside is classically beautiful (Wales and the Isle of Man stand in for Suffolk); and the cast is well-nigh perfect. It's a talky sort of film, but then these are people who have a lot to say. And Romola Garai brings Cassandra to life in a way I wouldn't have thought possible: not a girl, not yet a woman, struggling with both the cerebral and the hormonal but sworn to do the Right Thing come what may, this is the character for whom I fell so hard so many years ago.
Mere nostalgia? Hardly. In the grand scheme of things, one's first love ranks second among the most important romantic relationships of a lifetime one's last love, of course, is the first and Cassandra Mortmain, confused yet resolute, completely fictional yet utterly real to me, contributed as much as anyone to the structure of my life. And in one way, the film version improves on that structure; the book closes with nine words, a triplet spoken thrice, while the film ends with eight: "I love, I have loved, I will love." If the ending is not technically happy, it's not technically the ending, either.
Dodie Smith's book was published in 1948, the same year that C. B. Warr directed the construction of the house which today is mine, a reminder, to me anyway, that what we are doesn't start with when we're born. And life itself is much like I Capture the Castle: even when it's carefully plotted, it's still vaguely out of control. Heady lessons at fifteen; still viable at fifty.