3rd of December
One of VFN’s favourite bloggers, Tova Marr is back in the calendar this year with her take on the Christmas movie ‘A Castle for Christmas’.
If you decide to watch (or not) after Tova’s review tag us @viennafamilynetwork or #vfnchristmas2023 to let us know your thoughts!
A Castle for Christmas: A Synopsis by Tova Marr
Well, my friends, it is that time of the year again… a time for reflection, spreading cheer, crippling financial despair and most importantly of all: cheesy Christmas films! I consider myself to be halfway intelligent. I’ll do the New York Times crossword puzzle daily, well, until Thursday at least. I understand basic economics and can have a decent conversation about current geopolitical challenges… but you throw on a Hallmark Christmas movie and suddenly I turn into a hypnotized lizard person, laser focused on a stupid plot that involves Type A city girls and men in flannel. Why? Dunno. This is who I am. So I thought that I would watch A Castle for Christmas and write a synopsis of this film. While it may not be a Hallmark film, it does have the hallmarks (see what I did there?) of being a cheesy, easy to watch Christmas movie.
So let’s get started! We start off with a drone flying over New York City. Brooke Shields’ voice is heard, and as she speaks, book covers flash into view. Her name is Sophie Brown and she’s written many, many books about a character named Emma Gale. Already bonus points for not using the names “Holly” or “Noel”. Suddenly the opening credits end and we see Sophie in a red power suit. She looks fabulous, I would wear it and somebody would ask me if Santa knows I’ve left the workshop… Statuesque like Brooke Shields I am not.
We find out that she is in the green room for The Drew Barrymore Show. They can’t possibly have the budget for Drew Barrymore. Her agent comes in and tells Sophie that her latest book is causing a Category 5 storm. She turns on the TV and shows Sophie that there are literal protestors outside the studio. This made me laugh out loud. Oh look, apparently there is a budget in this film to actually have a Drew Barrymore cameo. Well done!
Sophie is being interviewed on The Drew Barrymore Show and we find out that she has killed off a beloved “Winston” in her latest book. He was the love interest of the main character (Emma Gale). Drew is big mads and calls Sophie out on this. Sophie counters and says “We don’t all get happy endings” and Drew lectures her. She then mentions that maybe Sophie’s recent divorce is the reason she killed off Winston in her books. I think Drew Barrymore needs to calm that down a little. Sophie, in her fabulous red power suit, starts to spiral. She tells the audience that they should be grateful that Winston died a quick death… oh the things she could have done to that character. She stands up and screams the last part. This is a woman stressed.
We are 3 minutes into the film and we know so much now: Sophie, successful writer, kills off beloved character, the public hates her, she’s had a recent messy divorce, and she has great hair.
The next scene we see a young woman carrying a glass of wine through a loft apartment which I’m guessing rents for at least 20,000 a month. I need to write more books. We find out that the young woman is Sophie’s college aged daughter. They eat Chinese take out out of those typical take out boxes you always see in New York-based movies. Sophie tells her daughter that she remembers her father, a barber, always talking about Scotland and a castle. The daughter heads out and then Sophie stares at a wall covered in frames of her book covers and it looks like there might be space for just one more. Perhaps this is foreshadowing… Also, please note that she has covered most of the beautiful exposed brick. I don’t want to call her a monster, but she might be a monster.
She sits at a desk and pulls out an old card that says Dun Dunbar. Dun dun dun!!! It’s now the morning and Sophie has her coat on. She is facetiming her daughter and telling her she is heading to Scotland. That’s impulsive.
She lands in Edinburgh and a taxi driver with a thick brogue picks her up. They add English subtitles because we can’t understand what he says, neither can Sophie, daughter of a Scottish immigrant. We get a lovely montage of Scottish countryside and it is sunny. She arrives in the tiny town of Dunbar, population 153. It’s quaint. Very quaint. She walks up to an inn and there is Cary Elwes! In coveralls. Nothing but love for Cary Elwes. As she looks at the inn, a dog comes bounding around the corner and jumps on her. Oh my God, not the Birkin! The dog’s name is Hamish and the force of him jumping on her propels her into the arms of Cary. There’s our meet cute. There’s a spark between them or maybe it’s just jetlag.
Sophie walks into the inn and there is a group of people knitting. The receptionist/owner recognizes Sophie as the writer Sophie Brown and even tells her she liked the latest book. Ah yes, the Europeans don’t mind a sad ending. Sophie is shown to her lovely little room. Later she is in Uggs and a cashmere wrap and she facetimes her agent, telling her that she is going to write her next book in Scotland. That’s right, Sophie, use this as a write off. Atta girl!
Now Sophie has a bike and she bikes through the countryside with a big smile, looking like an LL Bean commercial. When I bike, I look like a grizzled colonel, navigating a warzone. Sophie spies the castle and it’s lovely. All I can think about are the heating bills, and the cleaning. As she approaches the castle we see Cary Elwes gardening. We are supposed to believe that he is a groundskeeper. A group of tourists exit the castle, led by a tour guide in a kilt. He tries to get them to buy souvenirs in the gift shop. They do not. The tour guide tells Sophie she missed the tour but Cary offers to show her around. She asks if he will get in trouble and he responds “I’ll take my chances.”
He takes her around the castle and tells her that there are over 3,000 castles in Scotland. This one is very pretty. Very large. Man, I hope they have a couple of Roombas. The castle has been in the same family for 500 years. Sophies asks “Who owns it?” And Cary responds “Just some royal arse.” ARE YOU THAT ROYAL ARSE, CARY?! ARE YOU?!
Hamish the dog is back and jumps on Sophie again. Apparently Hamish isn’t usually this friendly. Not sure why Hamish is such a big part of this story. The tour continues and we find out that there are 12 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms. Oy vay. Sophie sees a red rope across the entrance to a staircase. She asks what is up there and Cary says it is private. He has to walk away for a couple of minutes to deal with something and the minute he leaves, good old rule breaking exposed brick wall covering Sophie sneaks past the rope. For shame, SOPHIE!
She runs around the castle and then finds a crude carving on a door that says “MCG” or something. Cary catches her and yells at her for sneaking around. She tries to tell him she has history with the castle but he kicks her out and she bikes off. She is back at the inn and she meets the knitters in the pub. One woman is a huge fan of her books and is a pastry chef. She looks like she is 15 years old. Then a man, who is part of the group, silently stands up and walks over to the bar. One knitter mentions that his husband recently passed and he isn’t talking because of it. Oh this film better not make me cry. I will lose it.
Sophie talks about her dad and how his family were the groundskeepers for Dun Dunbar. That’s when she finds out that the castle is for sale. Dun dun duuuun…
We are back on the castle grounds and Cary is skeet shooting. A lawyer, seated at a random table with a full tea setting tells Cary that there is an offer on the castle and that he should take it. Ah ha! He is the owner! I knew it! Sophie shows up in wellies because Scotland and we find out that she is the one that wants to buy the castle and that is when she discovers that Cary is the “royal arse” and he is none other than Duke of Dunbar. Fancy. The two of them fight because this is the type of movie that demands that the two romantic leads don’t like each other initially. Add a little tension, spice things up a little.
Duke Cary refuses to sell the castle to Sophie and she stomps off. She is back at the pub at the inn and she orders a whiskey. A moment later Duke Cary shows up, sits down beside her and orders a whiskey as well. He then says that he will sell her the castle but that there are conditions. First she has to make a deposit and then she has to move in for 90 days to learn how to take care of the castle in order to realize how hard it is to maintain it. Of course.
We then see Duke Cary talking to the tour guide and telling him his devious plan: she will realize she doesn’t want the castle in the end because it is too much work and they will get to keep the deposit that will keep them going until the spring. Devious Duke Dunbar!
Sophie is at the inn celebrating her ridiculous purchase of a castle. She goes to her room and facetimes her daughter to tell her she just bought a castle. The daughter should maybe consider fighting for power of attorney because her mother seems to have lost her everloving mind. This is my thought, not the daughter’s. Also, I hope the daughter is on a scholarship because buh bye inheritance. And how much does Sophie make from her books?!
It’s time for Sophie to move into the castle. Duke Cary tells her that they have a wind farm and are big on sustainability. Of course. He then tells her he went to Oxford and Cambridge. OF COURSE. And then he says he is an environmental engineer. OF COURSE!!! He takes her on another tour and tells her the roof is leaking, only half of the fireplaces work and the WiFi is spotty. That’s it, I’m out. Are there any villas available in Tuscany?
He gives her an unheated falling apart room in the attic for her to stay in. What is this, Cary? You said there were 12 bedrooms. What is this, The Little Princess? Come on! He then tells her that there is no record of the Brown family as groundkeepers but she says that is her married name. Her father’s family name is McGuinty and the family was fired 60 years ago when her father was caught carving his last name into the door. Turns out it was Duke Cary’s grandfather who had them kicked off the land. Sophie and Duke Cary both shrug and that’s when I realize they are not semitic like me. My family would hold a grudge for 60 years and then would buy that castle and rename it Dun Spitebar and kick the duke out! I would buy a title and call myself Lady Spitebar. Ha ha! Vengeance! Sorry, I’ve gotten off track.
Later that night Sophie is unpacking in her death trap of a room. A noise scares her and it is Hamish the dog. He leads her through the castle and she ends up walking in on Duke Cary in the tub. I see you, Hamish. Later that night Duke Cary watches the video of Sophie losing her mind on The Drew Barrymore Show and then he stands up and quickly locks his door. That made me laugh.
Sophie wakes up freezing in her room and comes down for breakfast. I wonder if she found a plug for her Dyson? Her hair looks great. Duke Cary is eating breakfast and reading her book. He pretty much mocks her and reads the quote “Do you believe in love at first sight?” This is the second or third time this sentence has been uttered in this film so far. I’m sensing a thread.
Sophie heads into the village and two of the knitters are yarn bombing a phone box. That’s when everyday objects are covered in yarn. The pastry chef says she wants to dye her hair green and Sophie, and I’m paraphrasing here, replies “I can do it! My father was a barber in Queens! And was the best colorist and stylist.” Um, maam. It was a barber shop, in Queens, in the 80s. I don’t think he was dying Union rep Joey Mattasucco’s hair green. But what do I know?
After Sophie heads off, the knitting receptionist gets on the phone and cryptically says “I need your help at the castle.” I’m intrigued.
The knitters all show up in a van like a Scooby Doo episode at the castle and pile out. One says “Let’s do this.” And for a second I thought they were going to yarn bomb the castle and I almost yelled at the screen. But no, they are just zuzzing up her probably condemned mold ridden room. You know there are other bedrooms, right?
The knitters have finished decorating her room with things and now they are outside by the van. They tell Sophie that Duke Cary is actually also the town landlord. He never has raised their rents, the previous dukes squandered all the cash and that is why he wants to sell the castle: to save Dunbar the town. All around good guy environmental engineer duke. What a guy.
Sophie is then in the library facetiming with her daughter. She invites her for Christmas at the castle and Duke Cary eavesdrops for a minute. We find out that Sophie’s ex-husband is getting married to the woman he left Sophie for and the daughter promised to go to the wedding. Oh, you are definitely not getting an inheritance, kiddo. She ends the call after Duke Cary walks in. They sit on the couch and we find out that he was married before but she left him for a man with a better title. Wait, is his ex wife Camilla Parker Bowles?! That would be amazing!
Duke Cary takes her on a scenic drive. The soundtrack is very Gilmore Girls. And once again it is sunny. I think the Scottish have been lying to us about the weather. I’m on to you! Sophie and Duke Cary walk through a field and he points out an old well and tells the legend of the first Duchess of Dunbar. She was a warrior that protected the town of Dunbar. Something about Christmas Eve and love. Yadda yadda yadda. I’m happy that Christmas is finally starting to be brought up. I did not sign up to watch a renovation love story. Oh who am I kidding, I totally am always signed up to watch a renovation love story.
Duke Cary and Sophie leave the well and end up at the inn. There is Scottish music playing and the Duke grabs a glass of whiskey. All the knitters start to dance and sing and finally Sophie and the Duke dance. Ooooh. Something is happening.
They make it back to the castle and they end up face to face. They almost kiss but instead hug. She heads to bed and Hamish the dog follows her. Duke Cary calls him a traitor. We then have the cinematic moment of Sophie lying in bed, smiling to herself.
We find out that Sophie has now been at the castle for 42 days. Duke Cary is talking to the tour guide as they clean paintings and the tour guide hints that he has a crush on Sophie. Of course Duke Cary denies the heinous allegations.
It’s another sunny day (really?) and Sophie is working on her book but can’t seem to get past the first sentence. Her agent calls her and tells her that she needs to get her book done. Sophie sighs and I’m all like “Sophie, you just bought a castle. Girl, you gotta write!”
A tour is happening and they interrupt Sophie. She is recognized by the tourists and I’m starting to think this film might not know authors. Very few are recognized. Sophie decides to take over the tour because God forbid she writes her book and make money. To be fair, as a writer, I have found many many reasons to stop writing: dusting, polishing silver, looking for a random dress I forgot about but suddenly need to find…
The tour ends and the tourists raid the gift shop. That’s good for business and the tour guide mentions that to Duke Cary. The knitting van shows up to pick up Sophie. Later they are all at the pub and Duke Cary walks in and stalks around. He finally pulls her to the side and tells her that she is too much all up in his business. She says too bad and he huffs and puffs.
Back at the castle she catches the Duke chiseling at the door that her father had inscribed his name on (MCG). She thinks he is removing it but alas, no, he has put the full name of McGuinty into the door. Awwww. She is touched. And boy does he send mixed messages.
Fast forward to a week before Christmas. Sophie is still struggling to write her book. There’s a knock at her bedroom door and Duke Cary comes in with a large dresser for her as a present. I think a space heater would have been nicer but whatever. He asks her how “Emma Gale”, her main protagonist, is doing and she shrugs, telling him that she has parted ways with that character. Sophie then suggests they go get a Christmas tree for the ballroom. WRITE THE BOOK, SOPHIE! You have condo fees back in New York!
We then see them on horseback trotting through the snowy Scottish countryside. Where did they get those horses? They then are in a snow covered forest and they talk about Scottish insult words. Fun. Sophie spots the perfect tree but before they cut it down, Duke Cary has to plant two saplings because he wants “to leave the world a better place.” Oh for the love of….
Next they are back at the castle and they are decorating for the upcoming Christmas eve party that they are throwing for the town. The knitters show up and then they sing a song and I wonder how many of the actors died inside and considered leaving the acting business forever.
Then there is a quick scene with a couple checking into the inn. The woman gives the name Donatelli and I made a note that this would be probably important in the film later on. It is not important in the film later on. I did spend a good day and a half wondering why this couple was featured. So then I Googled “Couple named Donatelli in A Castle for Christmas important? Why?” and it turns out that they are characters from another Netflix Christmas film called “The Princess Switch”. The more you know.
We then have Sophie and Duke Cary eating Chinese takeout in the castle ballroom. A little nod of appreciation from me to the set designer/prop person. They used European take out containers. I’d also like to ask where they got Chinese delivered from. There are 153 people in this town. Anyway, they talk. It’s cute. The power goes out. Charming electrocution scene.
Sophie calls her agent and the agent tells her there’s a possibility of a 4 book book deal from Harper’s. How?! But Sophie doesn’t want that. Sophie, I hate that I’m harping on this but the heating costs alone of this place…
It’s now December 23rd. The tour guide and Duke Cary are unpacking the car filled with champs and pastries for the party. The tour guide wants Duke Cary to admit he really is into Sophie. He denies it again. Now Sophie walks into the inn and I don’t want to sound like a jerk but I don’t think anybody works in this town. She shows the knitters a dress she found in a closet at the castle. It’s pretty and probably vintage and the knitters tell her she totes has to wear it to the party. Sophie surprises them all with outfits she bought for them for the party from Saks 5th Avenue. WAIT! WHAT?! Does this town have a Saks and a Chinese restaurant? What is happening? And Sophie, did you just spend 5,000 dollars on clothes? No wonder your agent is about to have a heart attack… How did you get approved for a loan?! YOU ARE TERRIBLE WITH MONEY!
Sophie is back in her room trying on the dress. Hamish steals one of her shoes and she has to run after him. Of course Hamish stops in front of Duke Cary’s room because Hamish has the soul of a Jewish matchmaking Bubbe. He opens the door and is smitten by her dress and they finally kiss and then head into his room… to play Monopoly and a little Playstation. THIS IS A FAMILY FRIENDLY MOVIE SYNOPSIS!
The next morning they both have that post Playstation glow and they sit down for breakfast and the tour guide totally knows that they played Playstation last night. It’s snowing outside and Sophie is excited and then there is the weirdest montage of her twirling outside in the snow and then dancing with Duke Cary in the ballroom and it goes back and forth between those two things and I wonder if Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields wondered about quitting the acting business for good as they filmed this scene.
The snow twirling scene ends and Sophie and Duke Cary finish dancing. She then says to him “You can stay after Christmas… at the castle..” And BOOM, he loses it. He has a total conniption (toxic masculinity) and they fight and she stalks off and boy that escalated quickly. She tells him that she isn’t buying the castle no mo and packs up her stuff. Sophie drags her suitcase through the snow and Hamish follows her for a bit but then stops because he probably doesn’t want to live in New York. Duke Cary watches her from the window and the tour guide walks in and gives him a lecture.
Sophie makes it to the village and stops at the inn. She says she is heading back to New York but assures the knitters that she’s paid off their mortgages. HAHAHA! SOPHIE! YOU HAVE TO STOP! She then says she made a mistake falling in love and that’s when the silent widower Angus speaks up for the first time and says “Loving someone is never a mistake.” AND DAMN THIS FILM FOR I AM NOW CRYING! WHY?! Ugh. I was staying so strong.
The knitters then give her a sweater they made her. She paid off their mortgages. Seems fair. And they give her the dress she was going to wear to the party “Just in case.” Sophie climbs into the taxi to head to Edinburgh but it breaks down. She has to go back to the inn and there are no other options to get to the airport. Duke Cary is in bed reading her book and there is a montage of him and Sophie laughing and dancing while Robbie William’s “She’s the One” is playing. And of course he gets a look on his face that says. “Hot diggity dog, I love her!”
It’s the evening and Sophie is in her inn room, looking at pictures and crying. She leaves a voicemail for her daughter but remembers that her ex-husband is currently marrying his mistress and worst Christmas ever. People are arriving at the castle for the Christmas party and they’ve made the outside look phenomenal with Christmas lights. I’m this close to calling our landlord and asking if I can do the same to the building.
Sophie tries to write her book and briefly considers bringing back the character Winston. Do it, Sophie. You now have crippling financial debt. Suddenly a snowball hits her window and she rushes to open it. Duke Cary is there in his formal kilt and with two horses. He throws another snowball and it accidentally hits her in the face. She slams the window shut. Duke Cary sighs and thinks he has blown it. He gets onto the horse and rides away dejectedly until, wait, Sophie is at the front door! She throws a snowball at him and it hits him on the back. He stops, he turns, he smiles, he dismounts, he tells her he loves her, they kiss! Oh happy day! A Christmas Eve miracle.
The next scene is Sophie in her tartan ball gown and Duke Cary riding up to the castle. The party is in full swing and there is dancing. Sophie’s dress slightly reminds me of Charlotte York’s dress in that Sex and the City episode when Trey tells his mother Bunny about their fertility issues and then he accidentally rips her dress. That was a great season. Back to the movie! They all dance a traditional Scottish dance and then the tour guide whispers “She’s here!” to the Duke. Who here? WHO?!
Duke Cary gets onto the stage and ta da! He’s flown Sophie’s daughter in from New York. Boy am I glad Sophie and Duke Cary made up. Imagine how awkward that would have been had her daughter flown in and Sophie was gone. I’ll sit with that imagined scene for a minute. The music starts up again and Angus the widower gets on stage and dances and it truly is a partay.
It’s Christmas Day and Sophie walks into the library. She sits down and she is able to write again. Her daughter walks in with hot chocolate and Duke Cary walks in after. He gives her a necklace (you all suck with money management!) and then the camera pans out and shows the snowy castle. Awww.
The very last scene is Sophie back on The Drew Barrymore Show and it turns out she has written a book called “Heart of a Warrior”. She has changed her name back to Sophie McGuinty. She isn’t married yet but it seems like it is in the cards. Her book is of course a bestseller and she’s being audited by the IRS. I made that last part up. The film ends and there you have, A Castle for Christmas.
To be fair, this is not the worst Christmas film I’ve watched. And Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes are both fun to watch. I also like that the main characters are not 22 years old and the scenery is delightful. Will I watch it again? Probably not. But I’ll keep you all updated on how my book sales go and when I can expect to purchase a castle. My guess? Sometime in 2147. Huzzah! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
About Tova: Tova Marr has lived in Vienna for over 20 years. The holiday season is always a wonderful time for her. When she isn’t watching people from her windows, she writes books and works on her podcast. Her novels are available on Amazon and her latest one is called Melange a Trois: A Vienna Love Story. She is also the co-host of the recently launched podcast: Melange a Deux: A Vienna Podcast. Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.