THE CASTLE

1997, directed by Rob Sitch

"…Could well be the best comedy picture made in Australia…"

Leigh Paatsch — Melbourne: Herald-SUN

 

 

 

Principal Cast and Credits

Cast: Michael Caton …Darryl Kerrigan

Anne Tenney …Sal Kerrigan

Stephen Curry …Dale Kerrigan

Anthony Simcoe …Steve Kerrigan

Sophie Lee …Tracy Kerrigan

Wayne Hope …Wayne Kerrigan

Tiriel Mora …Dennis Denuto

Eric Bana …Con Petropoulous

Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell...Lawrence Hammill

Director: Rob Sitch

Writers: Santo Cilauro

Tom Gleisner

Jane Kennedy

Rob Sitch

Cinematographer: Miriana Marusic

Executive Producer: Michael Hirsh

Producer: Debra Choate

Film Editor: Wayne Hyett

Production Design: Carrie Kennedy

Production Company:Working Dog Productions

Distributors: Village Roadshow (Australia)

Miramax Films (USA)

United International Pictures Ltd. (UK)

RVC Film Distribution (Netherlands/Belgium/Luxembourg)

Ascot Elite Entertainment Group (Switzerland)

Running Time: 82 minutes Certification: Australia:M / USA:R

 

Other Film Information

Release Dates & Australia …10 April 1997 AUS$10 million

Total Box Office: (Working Dog figure)

New Zealand …15 January 1998 unavailable

UK …24 July 1998 UK₤285,245

Norway …24 December 1998 unavailable

USA …7 May 1999 US$861,789

Switzerland …23 July 1999 unavailable

Netherlands …16 September 1999 unavailable

Singapore …23 September 1999 unavailable

Awards: Won AFI Award — Best Original Screenplay 1997

Nominated AFI Award — Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role …Michael Caton 1997

AFI Award — Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role …Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell 1997

AFI Award — Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role …Sophie Lee 1997

Nominated British Independent Film Award — Best Foreign Independent Film-English Language 1998

Nominated European Film Awards — Five Continents Award …Rob Sitch 1998

European Film Awards — Bronze Horse …Rob Sitch 1998

Won US Floating Film Festival — Audience Award 1999

Bibliographical Details — Interviews with Filmmakers

Malone, Peter. ‘A House is a Castle’, in Cinema Papers, April 1997, No. 115, pp.10-12.

"I like the fact that the film is simple: here it is and there’s nothing more complicated than that. You either take it or you don’t take it — and, as an audience member, I appreciate having that choice." — (Santo Cilauro, co- writer)

‘The Castle: A Place By The Tarmac’, in Urban Cinefile Features, 1997.

http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/scripts/cinifile/Features.idc?Article_ID=139

"We used our own money that we’d saved up. Suffice to say, we weren’t planning on an expensive film, let me tell you." — (Jane Kennedy, co-writer)

"We were all sick of the kind of bleak view being presented in Australian films of family life." — (Santo Cilauro, co-writer)

 

Bibliographical Details — Reviews

Button, Simon. In Total Film, August 1998, p.24.

Errigo, Angie. In Empire, August 1998, p.42.

Gleiberman, Owen. ‘The Castle’, in Entertainment Weekly, 14 May 1999, Iss. 485, p.51.

Graham, Jamie. In Sight and Sound, August 1998, British Film Institute, London, pp.34-35.

"It would be easy to overlook ‘The Castle’s’ mordant subtexts; the film may play dumb but don’t be fooled for a second" — (Jamie Graham, Sight and Sound)

Hunter, Tim. ‘The Castle’, in Cinema Papers, May 1997, No. 116, pp.44-45.

"The impressive thing about ‘The Castle’ is not the story or situation… but the quality of the script itself." — (Tim Hunter, Cinema Papers)

Wyman, Mark. In Film Review, August 1998, p.24.

 

On-Line Presence

http://www.ausfilm.com/cf_verity_detail.cfm?ID=Castle%2C%20The%20%281997%29 -Ausfilms — Australian Film Database

http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/scripts/cinefile/Reviews_Archives.idc?Article_ID=1205 -Urban Cinefile

"The film style is reminiscent of that seen on the Box in Australia in the 70’s, but somehow there is some charm from the simplicity of the values, characters and performances" — (Paul Fischer, Urban Cinefile)

http://www.us.imdb.com/Title?0118826 -International Movie Database

http://www.workingdog/wdog.html -Working Dog Productions

http://www.film.com/reviews/index.jhtml?review/1999/13010/1470/default-review.html

-Film.com Review

http://archive.entertainment.news.com.au/film/archive/70412b.htm

-The Australian Newspaper

http://mymovies.net/features/urbancinefile/reviews/link-a-ehtm

-My Movies Review

http://boxoff.com/cgi/getreview.pl?whereName&filename=All&terms=THE+CASTL

-Box Office Magazine

http://filmink-online.com/hbs.cgi?movie=1324

-Filmink Online

http://www.roughcut.com/reviews/movies/vault1999/castle.html

-Rough Cut

http://www.canoe.ca/JamMoviesReviewsC/castle_king.html

-Jam Movies Online

http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1999/05/051401.html

Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert on Movies

""The Castle", directed by Rob Sitch, is one of those comic treasures like "The Full Monty" and "Waking Ned Devine" that shows its characters in full bloom of glorious eccentricity" — (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1999/05/14/DD46886.DTL

-San Francisco Chronicle

http://www.nytimes.com/library/film/050799castle-film-review.html

-New York Times

http://www.spectator.org/movies/movie5599.htm#castle

-American Spectator

"…in fact somewhere not far beneath the surface of this film, and perhaps of Australian culture too, there lurks a suspicion that it is precisely his (Darryl’s) cluelessness when it comes to matters of taste and aesthetics which guarantees a corresponding moral shrewdness about "common sense"…he is a hero for our time." - (James Bowman, American Spectator)

http://www.adfilmworks.com/siff99foreign.html

-American Dreamer: Seattle International Film Festival 1999

 

Collecting the Information

Searching for the information at the library proved to be the hardest task. Even though the film came out in 1997, the only review and interview information came from the Australian magazine, Cinema Papers and English magazine Sight and Sound. However, searching the web proved to be a rewarding task as there is a myriad of information contained on the film within it. The Internet Movie Database (imdb) is a site that contains many links to reviews on the film. As well as containing links to American sites it also has links to Australian sites such as Urban Cinefile. The film’s production company — Working Dog, also contains some information, and proved to be the only site found that gave the Australian box office gross.

 

Critical Review

The Castle (Sitch 1997) was released in Australia in 1997. It is the first feature from the team behind the highly successful television series Frontline. The story is narrated by the son Dale Kerrigan (Stephen Curry) and tells the story of the working class Kerrigan family, who live in a lower class dwelling in Melbourne adjacent to the main airport and near to high voltage power lines. His father Darryl (Michael Caton) is a tow truck driver and a man who is committed to his family in every respect. Sal (Anne Tenney) is the mother who is just as devoted to the family and has a love for cooking and craft. The rest of the family includes Steve (Anthony Simcoe), a guy who is always looking for a bargain in the "Trading Post" and is referred to as the "idea’s man", by his father. Tracey (Sophie Lee) is the daughter and most highly educated of the family, as she is a qualified hairdresser. That just leaves Wayne (Wayne Hope), the brother who is doing time for robbery.

The Kerrigans’ world is running along happily until Darryl receives a visit from a real estate assessor who does a valuation on the house. Soon after, Darryl receives a letter stating that the house has been compulsorily acquired to make way for airport extensions. Darryl is not at all happy with this as he feels that "his house is his home, his castle", and decides to fight the decision. When ‘heavies’ come knocking at his door he bands together with his fellow neighbours and enlists the help of small time lawyer Dennis Denuto (Tiriel Mora) who is hopelessly out of his league to try to win the case. Along the way the Kerrigans visit their favourite holiday spot "Bonnie Doon," which turns out to be a stark landscape with a lake in the middle and high voltage power lines running across it. The whole family comes along, including Tracy’s new husband Con (Eric Bana) which acts to re-emphasize the loving bond within the family.

At the Federal Court the underprepared case is lost, unsurprisingly, but along the way Darryl meets up with retired QC Lawrence Hammill (Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell) who specialises in constitutional law. He offers to represent the Kerrigans at the High Court, and with his help the Kerrigans win their case and are able to keep their home. In the end the loose ends are tied as Darryl’s business expands and Wayne gets parole with the help of Lawrence who becomes a family friend.

The Castle tells a fairly simple story, but tells that story in a very humourous way that works well. It goes away from the somewhat bleak view of families presented in many Australian films before it, to show a family that is very close knit in which I feel is a welcome change. Some have believed that this film is out to somehow make fun of and mock the Kerrigans and therefore mock the values of working class Australia, but I believe just the opposite. I think that this film has cleverly shown that the family, like all families has faults but also that it is a family with pride who will stick up for what they believe in. I believe that it is commendable that this film has shown an ordinary family, who are battlers in a way that the audience can identify with.

 

Critical Uptake

At the time of its release in April 1997 most critics acclaimed the film, as it was said by one critic that it "could well be the best comedy ever made in Australia"(Paatsch, 1997). It was seen by most as a film depicting the "Everyfamily" (Hunter 1997, p.44) battling big business. But for some the film was out just to get laughs at the expense of the Kerrigan family with Evan Williams, a writer for The Australian stating that "Its message looks false and confused; and for that reason, I think, is an attempt to do too much." But even this critic suggested that the film could be a hit.

When the film was then released to the international market, namely the US market, views about what the film was actually saying were divided in the same way as they were in Australia, but again with the majority acclaiming the film. Subsequently to the films release, acclaimed US film critic Roger Ebert selected the film to screen at his "Overlooked Film Festival" in April 2000. In all, The Castle has had wide critical acclaim and has gone on to either win or be nominated for many awards both at home in Australia and internationally.

 

Production

The circumstances behind the production are that the writers, who are best known for their variety of different projects on television, decided one day that it was time to ‘have a go at making a film.’ After a discussion of no more than two or three hours (Malone 1997, p.10) they got an idea and wrote the script for The Castle within two weeks. Instead of going to distributors or the Film Commission for funding they used their own combined funds for the film. The various jobs were divided up amongst the writers, such as directing, shooting, editing and so on, which also saved on funds. The film was shot in a total of ten days, with a rough-cut ready five days after that. In all, the entire project from conception to completion took just five weeks, and was made with a remarkably low budget. Distributor, Village Roadshow then came in with funding to distribute the film. At the box office The Castle became one of Australia’s most successful films in grossing more than $10 million which then led to large American independent, Miramax Films, buying the US distribution rights for US$6 million.

 

Prior Work

For director Rob Sitch this is his directorial debut, and he has no prior experience in the field. For the team behind the film of: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch and executive producer Michael Hirsh their main background has been in the field of television. They have been involved in many series of different forms including the critically acclaimed and multi-award winning Frontline (1994-97) which has also received various international awards and an Emmy nomination. The group (including Hirsh as EP) also had success with the top rating comedy program The Late Show (1992-1993), which gained a number of local awards. From 1998 the team has been involved in the panel talk show The Panel (1998-). The cinematographer, Miriana Marusic also made her debut with this film.

The success of The Castle has led the team to a deal with Roadshow for two more films, with The Dish, starring Sam Neill expected out in late 2000. The casting for The Castle was a mix of relative newcomers in Anthony Simcoe and Stephen Curry, who with the success of this film has been cast in Cut (Rendall 2000), and The Wog Boy (Vellis 2000). Also, well known actors were cast including Michael Caton, who has been in such films as Monkey Grip (Cameron 1982) and The Interview (Manahan 1998). Anne Tenney is best known for her role as ‘Molly’ on A Country Practice (1981-1993) and Sophie Lee, best known for her work in Muriel’s Wedding (Hogan 1994). Along with these was Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell, a storwart of the Australian film and television industry, best known for his work on the classic police series Homicide (1964-1976) and for his starring role in the critically acclaimed Breaker Morant (Beresford 1980).

 

Position of Australian Film & Value

What The Castle tells the general position of Australian film is that at the time when it was produced, in the late 1990’s there seems to be a lack of funding that is available for feature films. It falls into the category of "do it yourself," meaning that it was entirely funded by the filmmakers themselves. This film is also an example of the internationalisation of the industry with it being presented at many festivals around the world, including Sundance, which has then led onto a worldwide release. The Castle can be seen as an example of Australia being a "mundane cinema" (O’Regan 1996, p.127). This is meaning "ordinary" and "everyday," lacking artfulness and cultural difference. But along with this The Castle can be seen as an example of a prestige cinema or festival cinema (O’Regan 1996, p.127) at the same time. Like other mundane titles such as Muriel’s Wedding, it has been circulated at international film festivals.

‘Mundane’ cinemas are said to be compromised and complicit with Hollywood, however are "needed for a national cinema like Australia to function and enlist widespread public and exhibitor, distributor, investor and film critic support"(O’Regan 1996, p.141). The dominance of Hollywood over national cinemas like Australia can be seen with the example of The Castle also. That is, at the time when the film was to be sold to US independent — Miramax Films certain words in the film were changed in order to be ‘understood’ by the US market. For example ‘Hey, Hey its Saturday’ was changed to ‘Funniest Home Video’s,’ and ‘two-stroke motor’ changed to ‘outboard motor,’ as well as changes to the musical score. This, it can be suggested in one sense, is devaluing the cultural value of the film purely to increase the commercial gain, although it can also be stated that many other "Australianisms" were left in. In general the uptake of this film in the cinema and also the video market suggests that some Australian films, even though lacking in funds and production values can compete with the dominant Hollywood films and be valued more in the local market arena.

 

A Medium Sized English Language Cinema

The Australian cinema is described as being a medium sized English language cinema. This means that the local product only occupies a minor place on the world stage and has to compete with the dominant American market. That is, the product must be sufficiently different to the American product, for example the ‘quirkiness’ of The Castle, but also similar to be able to compete with the Hollywood films. The Australian cinema is also described as being an "antipodal" (O’Regan 1996, p.106) cinema meaning that Australian films have to negotiate a path between Australian and Hollywood filmmaking "norms." The Castle was made originally for the Australian market, with some overseas critics suggesting that its rhythm distances the film from the frantic, glossy world of much contemporary comedy — referring to the Hollywood style of comedy.

Being a medium sized English language cinema also means that being a hit in a country like Australia with The Castle making $10 million dollars and becoming one of the most successful Australian films, does not mean that it will be a hit internationally. For example it was only able to "circulate viably as ‘minor’ commercial product in North America and beyond…" (O’Regan 1996, p.96) making less than $1 million in the US, even after changes were put into place by distributor Miramax Films. Australian films are still seen as occupying the place of the ‘foreign’ film in the European and North American markets. A legacy of being a medium sized English language cinema is that "for the most part being non-American counts against Australian producers." (O’Regan 1996, p.96). The Castle is a film that deals with the social issues of the ordinary ‘battler’ seen by some critics as a ‘fault’ of Australian cinema in being too far removed from the dominant Hollywood model.

 

References

Hunter, T. ‘The Castle,’ in Cinema Papers, May 1997, No. 116, pp.44-45.

Malone, P. ‘A House is a Castle,’ in Cinema Papers, April 1997, No. 115, pp.10-12.

O’Regan, T. 1996, Australian National Cinema, Routledge, London.

Paatsch, L. ‘The Castle,’ in Melbourne Herald-Sun, April 1997.

Williams, E. The Australian, in Urban Cinefile site: www.urbancinifile.com.au/scripts/cinefile/Reviews_Archives.idc?Article_ID=1205

 

Film References

Breaker Morant, dir. Bruce Beresford, 1980.

The Castle, dir. Rob Sitch, 1997.

Cut, dir. Kimble Rendall, 2000.

The Dish, dir. Rob Sitch, 2000 (forthcoming).

The Interview, dir. Craig Monahan, 1998.

Monkey Grip, dir. Ken Cameron, 1982.

Muriel’s Wedding, dir. Paul J. Hogan, 1994.

The Wog Boy, dir. Aleksi Vellis, 2000.

 

Television References

A Country Practice, TV series, JNP Productions, 1981-1993.

Frontline, TV series, Frontline TV Productions/ABC-TV, 1994-1997.

Homicide, TV series, Crawford Productions/Seven Network, 1964-1976.

The Late Show, TV series, D-Generation Productions/ABC-TV, 1992-1993.

The Panel, TV series, Working Dog Productions/Ten Network, 1998-