A gutsy working-class fairytale

Issue 

The Castle
City and suburban cinemas

Review by Brendan Doyle

A bloke's home is his castle, right? Wrong. That's the big illusion of tow truck driver Darryl Kerrigan, who built his own emoh ruo next to the airport because land was cheap.

When Airlink Corporation decides it needs to expand the airport, and advises Darryl that his house will be "resumed" whether he likes it or not, the battle is on. That provides the excuse for this original, very funny and touching film that has a definite moral to it : if you don't fight, you lose.

Created by the talented team that used to be the D-Generation and now produce Frontline on ABC, The Castle tells the story of the Kerrigans, an Anglo Aussie family who are happily ensconced in their modest home under huge power lines, untroubled except by the roar of jets on the nearby runway.

Darryl (Michael Caton) is a happy man. He has all that a working-class bloke could want. A wife (Anne Tenney) who never complains and always cooks the Aussie food he loves. Three sons (one in jail for armed robbery), and daughter Tracey (Sophie Lee), who has a TAFE diploma in hairdressing and is engaged to Con, a kickboxer.

They are simple people who enjoy life's simple pleasures, such as gathering around the TV for Hey Hey It's Saturday, or fishing on the weekend.

Then one day their dream world collapses. They'll have to leave. Airlink Corporation has all the weight of the law, and a few hired thugs as well, behind it. Even Dennis, the local solicitor, who reluctantly takes the case to the Federal Court for Darryl, can't stop them.

But, as in all good fairy tales, there is a fairy godmother — in this case, a retired QC who offers to help out for free. The outcome of Darryl's case hinges on a clause in the constitution stating that compensation for resuming property must occur "on just terms". This is the point of the story. What are "just terms", and who decides them?

Darryl realises, with a shock, that he is being treated like the Aborigines, whose land is being taken away from them thanks to a legal fiction.

Darryl is a figure of fun — simple-minded, poorly educated, easily pleased and gullible — but he has a heart of gold. He loves his family and has created a good home for his kids. His revolt against the land resumption is that of the underdog. But the "happy ending" only underlines the fact that in the real world there are no fairy godmothers, and the little bloke nearly always loses.

This working-class fairytale reminded me of Ken Loach's Raining Stones for its brand of humour, and Spotswood, about the family shoe factory that has to close down.

When I saw it recently at a suburban cinema, many in the audience applauded at the end, a reaction I haven't seen since Strictly Ballroom. The Castle is a film in the great tradition of Charlie Chaplin, the good-hearted, stubborn little guy who wins in the end against the rich and powerful.

A friend said it was all a putdown of working-class people, who are presented as crass, useless and unable to defend themselves. I don't agree. It's so over the top that non-stop laughter takes over and I couldn't help but like them, warts and all. See what you think.

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