Sophie Brown (Brooke Shields) is a wildly successful writer of romantic novels, but her latest book has seen her audience turn against her. There are literal protests in the streets after she killed off the beloved hero of her long-running series, a decision in part motivated by her recent acrimonious divorce. After Drew Barrymore (!) inspires a minor on-air breakdown, Sophie rethinks her career and ends up running off to Dun Dunbar, a tiny Scottish town where her father was raised in a castle as the groundkeeper’s son. Much to her surprise, the castle is for sale, but the current owner, a cash-strapped duke named Myles (Cary Elwes), is reluctant to hand over the keys. Cue romance!
According to the Scotsman, there were, at one point in time, more than 2,000 castles across Scotland. While not all of them have survived in one piece to this day, there are still plenty of scenic sites for the eager tourist to check out on their next visit to the motherland. Hell, I grew up in a small town with at least two castles within walking distance from my house. It’s one of our more interesting cliches. Of course, it’s hardly a surprise that such stunning real estate would inspire storytellers with romantic intentions. Are you really reading a Scottish romance if your hot kilt-clad hero with a beard and surly emotional exterior isn’t the owner of a castle? The love interest of A Castle for Christmas doesn’t have the facial hair or ginger genes, but he’s a classic castle Scot in every other way.
Look, I’m a proud romance reader, but my cringe tolerance for Scottish romances written by Americans is low. You try spending four years doing a Celtic studies degree then see if you can watch Braveheart without wanting to yank out your own retinas. I know every trope as if my life depends on it, and A Castle for Christmas seems to be working from the same checklist I used in Scottish ethnology classes. There are the nosy locals who knit, the gag about not understanding the accent (complete with subtitles), lots of tartan, a dog named Hamish, and bagpipes on the soundtrack.
I know I’m not the target audience for this, but I can appreciate that this is made with laser-like focus for its demographic. It’s obviously not taking itself too seriously, much in the same vein that all of these Hallmark-esque holiday romances are. If this were all in a 300+ page romance novel, I know dozens of fellow readers who would gobble this up in one sitting. The tropes fly thick and fast, from the excited dog meet-cute to the gossipy circle of friends offering advice. And it’s all done with a Highland sheen — and actually filmed in Scotland, yay! Suck it, Vancouver and/or Utah!
It’s all appropriately low stakes, even with a crumbling castle and the duke’s mounting financial problems on the periphery. It’s not exactly grounded stuff (who buys a castle on a whim without at least checking if the roof is in one piece?), but there are moments of emotional honesty that keep the narrative grounded. Sophie’s familial attachment to Dun Dunbar goes beyond tartanry fetishism and Myles’s reluctance to give up his homestead despite the weight of the costs are understandable. Screenwriters Ally Carter and Kim Beyer-Johnson know there’s a fine line between sweet charm and cloying ham and they mostly stick to the latter, although that may also be region dependent.
The accent roulette game is in full swing here. Blessed be to every actual Scottish actor in this film who manages to keep a straight face when forced to screech out the kind of slang that is seldom said in real life. Some of these people deserve Nobel Prizes for not descending into cackles whenever Elwes returned from Brigadoon to talk like… well, that. Bless you, Dread Pirate Roberts, for you truly are stretching yourself here in a way that I respected yet wanted to end immediately. Netflix, I will offer my services to you as a Scottish accent sensitivity checker. I promise you that you do not need to roll every R or always say ‘aye’ instead of ‘yes.’ But you do need to drop at least a few hard Ts now and then, Cary. Why is every ‘what’ pronounced like you’re in a wind tunnel?! Call me, we can arrange something!
There are cute moments here, especially in its sheer commitment to the cozy aesthetic that looks as though it fell straight off the front of a shortbread tin. I know pubs and B&Bs that look like the one in this film and even I still felt an urge to go straight to this one. Some of the jokes land and I giggled enough to be sufficiently entertained over the 100-minute running-time (‘I thought dukes were supposed to be gentlemen.’ ‘Those are English dukes.’) The supporting cast, which includes Andi Osho and Desiree Burch, are ideal romance novel sidekicks, and it is always nice to see a romantic film with a central pair over the age of 50. Shields and Elwes, the latter’s accent aside, are certainly on the correct wavelength for this kind of romance. Maybe they can turn this into a series of films where Elwes chooses a new accent with every installment? There are castles in a lot of other countries, Netflix.
You already know if you’re going to watch A Castle for Christmas, and if you are, then you probably already know that you’ll like it. Reviews are meaningless for holiday romances and rightly so. My nationalistic nitpicking ain’t gonna stop you from drinking up this super-sweet festive feast. I’m just here to fulfill a duty to my homeland (and waste some time before we do this all over again for The Tragedy of Macbeth).
A Castle for Christmas is streaming on watch on Netflix as of November 26, 2021.
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