Back in the day – and I’m sure he’ll appreciate me saying – a parent had to be careful of popping upstairs to chat to his teenage son. Fling open his bedroom door and he might be pondering on Brooke Shields. Bang on the bathroom door, the splashing from within, similarly inspired said old Mrs Jack, would lead to inventive deployment of baking soda to return the bath’s natural sheen. And if young Steve disappeared into the garden shed, we left him well alone. He was a lad in love. An incandescent beauty from a foreign shore had inveigled her way into his… let’s go with heart. And we, his family, had to wait for his brain to kick in, and all the development needed of the male species. After many years, we knew, he would find true love, let her choose the house and the cushions, and became the warm, kind man we know today.
But his oldest love is still there. Deep in this heart and – as old Jack here gleefully informed him – available in respectably-aged decency on the Netflix. For Brooke Shields is now controlling her career, delivering lady daydreams – and buying A Castle for Christmas (2021).
Ok. I’m fairly sure Craig Ferguson made this movie twenty years ago, but what the hell. It’s a classic of its genre: romance for the ladies who outgrew Mills & Boon but not quite their dreams. And, given the findings of the Google engineers who assessed every search ever for the stimulating filth of the major genders, we know women want gruffty men needing taming, ideally vampires, werewolves, pirates and billionaires (eye-contact, ladies…). Or something approximating the above. Which means middle-aged Scots with dilapidated castles and a need for the love and money of grown-up American women.
These two themes – romance and the middle-aged women and Steve’s teenage wank bank – meet up in the stressed but gorge Brooke Shields as she tries to buy that castle in the land of gruffty, tameable men (shot around Edinburgh, briefly implying Aberdeenshire, in either case, fucking cold in the attic).
So… Shields is a monumentally successful writer, just out of a divorce, who baits her fans on the Drew Barrymore Show by claiming trans women aren’t women. Only joking! By killing off the lead of her gazillion romance novels. Freaking out on the show (the sharpest moment of passion in the film), Shields heads for Scotland, where her grandpa had been a bairn, scraping his name on a door in the Dun Dunbar Castle. This is one of those country-house ‘castles’, but so far so Downton.
The place is run-down and being held together by a proud Duke. His grace, grouchy despite fading-to-grey-yet-still-smooth-to the-touch locks and a pile of endearing character actors. Cary Elwes. An actor new to old Jack, his accent lands somewhere in Scotland, much like many of the cast who could have been recruited for Celtic authenticity, but… But let that go, it’s a pleasingly diverse cast making modern the society it represents. Albeit they are villagers on the Laird’s land… It is in the nature of this kind of story, and this man as fantasy, that the Duke is ultimately a good and decent soul, sacrificing his own world for the security of those around him. A grouchy hero needing a heroine…
The cute-meet (oh yeah, old Jack’s been reading) comes as Shields and Elwes wander the castle. The meet-rude is a bit earlier and – flinch – she thinks he’s a workman so imagine the moment she’ll realise he’s a Duke, oh yeah, oh yeah…. So, looking at the cute-meet-tour-of-the castle, she likes what she sees, but nips away from him to find her grandpa’s graffiti, they bicker, they find common annoyance and away we go… I’m trying not to sound cynical here. The film is sweet and guileless.
Look, here’s the thing. She’s destined to take away his woes and those of the villagers by being massively rich and fast to spend it. He’s destined to take away hers by being the good man she needs to bicker and – they get there – flirt with. Story-telling 101 demands a row before the ending and – yeah – no surprises here.
But, to young Steve’s chagrin and old Jack’s oddly oochy-coochy joy, A Castle for Christmas is just about the sum of its soft parts. The mix of the inoffensive, the growth of formulaic love with middle-aged participants (Shields and Elwes both have the faintly tired look of oldsters peering into the sunset), and the careful Scottishness of the atmosphere, add up to a comfort-blanket of a story. Old Jack wanted to scream and watch something violent for tea, but for lunch on a cold day, smuggled whisky burning its way through my compromised intestinal tract, this was an honestly pleasant, cosy and warm experience. No strong emotions were triggered, and I didn’t feel disgusted recommending it to young Steve as a relaxant for his middle years. Blessedly, Christmas barely seems relevant.
Just wish the villagers had been tart and funny. And memorable.
This film is nice.