Tartan and tinsel: a Scottish castle-dwelling novelist on Brooke Shields’ new romcom | Film


It is nice to know there are only two bicycling novelists who live in a Scottish castle, one being me and the other being Brooke Shields. (Before anyone gets too class-war-y, if you own a two-bedroom flat in any part of the south-east, it is almost certainly worth more than our crumbly old place in Fife.)

As a novelist, I write Scotland-based romances, often set at Christmas, because I love them. And every year I hope that Netflix might just option one and make it. But what have they done instead? They have only gone and made a ridiculous film about my real life.

In A Castle for Christmas, Shields plays Sophie Brown, a highly successful writer in New York with the most fabulous career and apartment. People care so much about her books that they have protests when she kills off a beloved character. Stop right there, I always think about these films. I only became a novelist because of Kathleen Turner’s amazing Manhattan life in Romancing the Stone, before she goes into that stupid jungle. Why would you leave?

Regardless, Sophie heads to Scotland, to the village of Dunbar, purportedly in Aberdeenshire, which may come as some surprise to the residents of the extremely lovely large town of Dunbar in East Lothian – seriously guys, just change, like, one letter. Accent-wise, the taxi driver is from Fife, while Andi Osho appears to be channelling a likably posh Glaswegian as Maisie, the kindly innkeeper, who desperately wants a New York novelist to do her hair for … reasons. As Myles, the slightly-fuzzy-round-the-edges duke, Cary Elwes has a not entirely disastrous stab at west Highlander, so it is an enjoyable mix.

Jenny Colgan at home on the south coast of Fife.
Jenny Colgan at home on the south coast of Fife. Photograph: Gordon Terris/Herald and Times Group

Sophie visits the estate where her grandfather worked as a groundskeeper and decides, on an insanely expensive whim, to buy it. Myles cooks up a plan to take Sophie’s deposit and make her live with him for three months, making her life so miserable that she will leave – without her large deposit, which I think is a criminal offence. I believe it is not a spoiler to tell you that she does not leave, in fact, and neither does he.

Apart from that, there is no jeopardy in this film at all: it is absolutely perfect for low-maintenance Christmas viewing.

At one point, Tom, Myles’s manservant/lover/brother (it is never made clear in the script), suggests that if he doesn’t sell Sophie the castle (which clearly isn’t a castle, castle fans, but a manor house, although this is not a film you want to get into authenticity arguments with), it will be pulled down and replaced by “condos”. Obviously, they have never had a conversation with Historic Environment Scotland about changing one tiny windowsill in a protected building.

Myles is theoretically impoverished, but he has never had to sell any of the paintings or antique furniture and manages to dig out about 100 grand’s worth of Christmas decorations, so nothing is ever too bad. They even have wifi and enjoy a Chinese takeaway, so they are way ahead of us. At one point, Sophie mentions that she has bats in her bedroom and nobody does what they normally do in Scotland: freeze and swear among themselves never to mention it again, in case your house is immediately confiscated as a bat sanctuary.

The entire thing is utterly cursory. The 10th Duke of Dunbar doesn’t even have his own tartan; he wears Royal Stewart, which is the tartan for folk who don’t have one of their own. (There is, of course, a Dunbar tartan; it is lovely.)

Brooke Shields in A Castle for Christmas.
Brooke Shields in A Castle for Christmas. Photograph: Mark Mainz/Netflix

But does any of this matter? Not in the slightest. A Castle for Christmas is ideal for watching with a mince pie and “a whisky, large”, as the Duke drinks, apparently having no preference in whiskies.

In fact, I am hoping, for selfish reasons, that it is a huge success. I tried recently to pitch a charming romance to Screen Scotland, when they had said they were keen to get away from Scottish films being all about heroin, poverty and child abuse. (They turned me down.) If this is a huge triumph, who knows what might be next?

Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields in A Castle for Christmas.
Highland fling … Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields in A Castle for Christmas. Photograph: Mark Mainz/Netflix

It is also lovely to see two great-looking actors who aren’t in the full flush of youth falling for one another. Shields has real charm, particularly in her scenes with Drew Barrymore, of which I could have done with loads more.

It is great to see more and more films being made in Scotland, with our world-class scenery and rapidly improving facilities. Good Omens is being filmed here and, despite being about a gay angel and a demon falling in love in an apocalypse, is notably more realistic and down-to-earth than A Castle for Christmas.

Brooke Shields in A Castle for Christmas
Festive cheer … Brooke Shields in A Castle for Christmas. Photograph: Mark Mainz/Netflix

I would like to say it is great to see terrific Scottish actors such as … but they are mostly English or American, apart from the charming Eilidh Loan. But still, it is just nice to see glorious Dalmeny House done up for Christmas, a ceilidh and a kiss. And, frankly, any film that manages to get Shields to call someone a numpty, a dobber and a walloper can’t be all bad.

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