On the 10th of April, 1997, the team known as Working Dog Productions released a little Australian film, called The Castle. Totally self funded, The Castle was shot in ten days, and completely finished in five weeks. The writers did everything, from shooting to editing to directing, resulting in a film that was totally their own work, and completed on a very low budget.
Working Dog Productions are a highly successful team of writers, with a basis firmly rooted in comedy. They're the team behind successful Australian comedy such as Frontline, and popular chat show The Panel. The Castle was the first film they'd made, and was followed up by The Dish.
The Castle is a warm hearted film, following the lives of the Kerrigan family. The Kerrigans are a close knit group, their most outstanding feature being that they're all complete dags. The family are:
- Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Katon) - the head of the family, Darryl is a tow truck driver, and an adoring father. Completely devoted to his wife and children, he shows great pride in their achievements, from his wife's sponge cake, to the hole dug by his son.
- Sal Kerrigan (Anne Tenney) - Darryl's wife, Sal's just as proud of her family as Darryl is. Sal loves art and craft, and putting a meal on the table for her family.
- Dale Kerrigan (Stephen Curry) - Stephen narrates The Castle, and the story is told through the story he has to tell. Dale's a little quiet and shy, but not when it comes to praise for his family.
- Tracy Kerrigan (Sophie Lee) - The only girl in the family, Tracy's the only family member to ever earn a degree, after earning her hairdressing qualification.
- Wayne Kerrigan (Wayne Hope) - Wayne's the black sheep in the family, and when we meet him it's from inside prison, jailed for robbery. He's still loved by his family, and still loves them all.
The story of The Castle is one of Darryl's struggle to save the family home - their castle. After receiving a visit from a real estate agent, doing a valuation on the house, Darryl learns that their home is to be compulsorily acquired by the Airports Corporation. Their home sits right next to an international airport, and the airport needs the land for a planned expansion. Darryl decides that he's not going to give up without a fight, and bands together with his neighbours - facing the same predicament - to fight the decision. Of course, none of them are rich people, so the call on the services of small time lawyer Dennis Denuto (Tiriel Mora). Not surprisingly, their attempt is a spectacular failure.
What follows is the battle Darryl fights to save his castle - he refuses to give up the war, even while loosing battles along the way. He's doomed to loose, his heartfelt pleas and arguments may be based on everything that's morally right, but it means little in the face of the law, and big business' plans. The scales are tipped however, when he meets retired QC Lawrence Hammill (Charles 'Bud' Tingwell), who warms to the Kerrigan's plight, and offers his services free of charge.
The Castle isn't so much about the story described above however, it's about families banding together, even in the face of adversity. Families are sometimes portrayed in a negative light in these circumstances, many times the story is about how they crumble, and break. The Kerrigan's manage to stay strong, and help each other through the tough times. While their story is told in a very light hearted, humorous fashion, there is a definite sense of warmth that is at the base of it all.
Some critics have suggested that The Castle pokes fun at sections of the community, particularly the working class, and tells its story in a ridiculing manner. While it's true that The Castle plays on a lot of stereotypes - Sal Kerrigan, the devoted wife who loves putting a meal on the table, Dale, who's not too bright, Tracy Kerrigan, the ditzy blonde - these stereotypes are never treated harshly, and the characters manage to be completely endearing. More than poking fun at these attributes, The Castle has an ability to pop up something that just about everyone could identify with - you don't end up laughing at the characters, you're laughing with them, and often at yourself.
The Castle would never have been so successful, were it not for the fact that it's just so damn funny. Some call it the funniest Australian movie yet made, and I'd find it hard to argue with that. The humour is witty, and never stoops to using well worn comic devices to attract a laugh. In fact, I can't recall a single instance of physical humour, or anything remotely resembling slapstick comedy - the laughs are caused almost exclusively through the script, and its abundance of dry humour. The writers have an incredible for taking an ordinary situation, and making it completely hilarious. I've seen The Castle several times now, and I still laugh as hard now as I did seeing it for the first time. It's truly one of the funniest, most heart warming films I've ever seen. I believe one of its greatest achievements is that it's a feel good movie, but doesn't patronise its audience. If you shed a happy tear after watching the trials and tribulations of the Kerrigan family, it's because you've truly fallen in love with them, not due to manipulative devices used by the film makers.
The Castle has seen International release in countries including New Zealand, the UK and the USA. It was fairly well received overseas, although for some markets, including the USA, was fairly heavily modified. The Castle's not short on Aussie slang and colloquialism, and this would have been completely puzzling to those unfamiliar with Australia's unique speech.
It has also won a variety of awards, including:
- AFI Award - Best Original Screenplay, 1997
- AFI Award - Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role - Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, 1997 (The Castle saw a resurgence in the acting career of Bud Tingwell, after its success, he was suddenly in demand again)
- AFI Award - Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role - Sophie Lee, 1997
- Winner of the US Floating Film Festival - Audience Award, 1999