An American author finds love when she travels to Scotland to visit the childhood home of her late father.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an impecunious British aristocrat with a freezing castle must be in want of a rich American wife, even if he doesn’t know it yet.
In A Castle, A Castle, My Christmas for a Castle! — sorry, I mean A Castle For Christmas — the 12th Duke of Dunbar definitely doesn’t know it yet, and in true romance style he gets off to a bad start with wealthy American author Sophie Brown when they have a row while he’s showing her round his chilly, leaky, crenellated home.
Sophie (the gorgeous, talented, middle-aged Brooke Shields) is in Scotland to escape her own cancelling after she killed off much-adored character Winston in her Emma Gale book series, leaving her fans furious; her father Callum used to live on the estate and she wants to both see his original home and start the next book. (I did wonder if Winston was an allusion to Churchill, whose mother and father were indeed a rich American socialite and a British aristocrat.) The Duke, Myles (the gorgeous, talented, middle-aged Cary Elwes), is, says Sophie, “the most awful, arrogant person”, so we know she’s going to fall head over heels.
Myles is on the point of losing the castle to the bank, so when Sophie turns out to be the only would-be purchaser, he devises a contract that would see her pay a hefty deposit then live in the castle with him for three months until Christmas. It’s supposedly to teach her the ropes, though really he’s planning on being so awful to her she will leave the castle and her deposit, and return Stateside.
Sophie isn’t just rich and talented. Like many middle-aged women, she’s stunning, stylish, and can knit (eventually). Myles, so named presumably because of the length of his driveway (not a euphemism), has been to both Oxford and Cambridge, runs a community wind farm and cares about his tenants.
The locals are made of sterner stuff than her American fans; hotel manager Maisie (Andi Osho), baker Rhona (Eilidh Loan), village stalwart Helen (Tina Gray) and (presumably) the ever-silent Angus (Stephen Oswald) think killing off the irritating Winston was exactly the right thing to do and are soon teaching her to knit and feeding her massive slabs of shortbread.
Christmas movies are often like Christmas itself; just swap traditions for tropes to go with the several pointless arguments, jingle bells soundtrack and impressively twinkly backdrop. A Castle For Christmas does what it says on the (Quality Street) tin, though with some changes stirred in to keep our interest.
The story is obvious, and the performances are sometimes hammier than a Christmas Eve glazed gammon from Waitrose, particularly from Hamish the dog, who sighs, dances, and ostentatiously hides shoes like an audience-baiting dame in a Cinderella pantomime. There’s the obligatory fiddle-playing, falling snow, nice jumpers, pointless fallings-out getting in the way of true love, and cheery locals.
But it also has mid-life romance, depictions of which are always welcome (you’ll say that too once you hit 50), with Myles’s and Sophie’s constant tiffs more believable in the light of the lives they’ve lived, both of them too old for fairytales: she just emerging from a fractious divorce, he used to his own company as he rattles around between his 12 cold bedrooms, ten bathrooms and the ghosts of dukes past. A Castle For Christmas boasts a diverse cast and characters, and the Christmas party at the end has a decent amount of guests, unlike those movies where they’re trying to make do with a handful of non-speaking extras who nod thoughtfully then laugh uproariously in the background of every scene.
There’s not much red-hot chemistry between Shields and Elwes, who seem like they’d be best mates for life rather than lovers, though really all Sophie and Myles need for a great sex life in that freezing castle is the determination to keep going through all those layers once they’ve committed to spending the night together. And both of them look amazing in dressing gowns and slippers, which also bodes well for their twilight years.
A Castle For Christmas is ably directed by Pet Sematary‘s Mary Lambert, though I do wish if she was going to film a Scottish romance she’d made sure it starred Gerard Butler in a kilt, because then I could have given this five stars and promoted my review with the line “smokin’ Lambert and Butler” (that’s a cigarette pun for you there, puritans, as well as a look back at my skint university years).
It’s well-paced, though technically the running time is a precise nine minutes too long (all festive romances should be a firm one hour and 30 minutes in duration, and this one clocks in at an hour 39).
Everything looks gorgeous, from the festively decorated castle and snowy hillsides, to grumpy Myles in his dressing gowns and Sophie in her elegant Scottish ball dress. (Myles’s dressing gowns are a posh version of the mythical avocado toast that according to Britain’s mid-market tabloids stops Millennials getting on the housing ladder; if only he stopped buying them, he could probably afford his castle.) The sparkling twilight forest where they go to cut down a Christmas tree looks like Narnia, albeit a studio version filmed years ago by the BBC in a giant shed. I liked the contrast between the roaring fires and stately rooms on the castle tour compared to the chilly, damp, cobwebby rooms the public never got to see, a parable for the realities of fairytale romance if ever there was one.
A Castle For Christmas may end entirely as expected (tartan, true love), but there is still room for a couple of mysteries: like there still being a room at the inn when a couple, Frank De Luca and Mrs Donatelli, arrive just before Christmas; and what the traffic was like for them en route from the Kingdom of Belgravia…
Note: There are early credits scenes.
A Castle For Christmas is now streaming in Netflix.
Check out my A Castle For Christmas ending recap (as if you need it but hey ho! Or rather, hey ho ho ho).
Watch the trailer: