The Castle

Rob Sitch
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Michael Caton, Eric Bana
Screening Date:
  • 14 May 2024
  • Categories:
    Comedy, Drama

    Warm and affectionate story about a working class and not very bright family who take on the government when their home is threatened by a compulsory purchase notice. One of Australia’s most widely quoted comedies.

    Film Notes

    Early in "The Castle," the happy Kerrigan family is served a chicken dinner by Sal, wife of proud Darryl and mother of daughter Tracey and sons Dale, Steve and Wayne; Wayne, currently in prison, is the only one missing from the table. Dad (Michael Caton) observes something on the chicken and asks his wife (Anne Tenney) what it is. "Seasoning," she says proudly. Dad beams: "Seasoning! Looks like everybody's kicked a goal." And so life spins along at 3 Highview Crescent in Melbourne, where the Kerrigan home sits surrounded by its built-on rooms, screened-in porch, greyhound kennel, big-dish satellite and carport. For Darryl, it is not so much a house as a shrine to one of the best darn families in the universe, and he proudly points out the plastic Victorian gingerbread trim and the fake chimney to an inspector--who is there, as it turns out, to condemn the property under the laws of eminent domain.

    The Kerrigans don't want to move. They've been told that the three most important words in real estate are "location, location, location"--and how could they improve on their home's convenient location, so close to the airport? So close, indeed, that jumbo jets pass within inches of the property line, and the house trembles when they take off.

    "The Castle," directed by Rob Sitch, is one of those comic treasures like "The Full Monty" and "Waking Ned Devine" that shows its characters in the full bloom of glorious eccentricity. The Kerrigans may be the proudest and happiest family you've ever met, what with Dad's prosperous tow truck business and the inventions of Steve (Anthony Simcoe), the "idea man" who specializes in fitting tools together so they can do two jobs equally badly. Tracy (Sophie Lee) is the only college graduate (from beauty school), and Dale (Stephen Curry) is the narrator. Dale frequently quotes his dad, who observes, as he gazes up at pylons towering over the home, that "power lines are a reminder of man's ability to generate electricity." Dad is a bit of an idea man himself, taking advantage of a narrow room by building an even narrower pool table for it. Meanwhile, Steve searches the Trader ad paper for bargains, making sudden discoveries: "Jousting sticks! Make us an offer!" So tightly knit is the family that Dale proudly reports that during mealtimes, "The television is definitely turned down." So it is with a real sense of loss that the Kerrigans discover they may be evicted from their castle, a fate they share with their neighbors Jack and Farouk.

    The movie's comic foundation is the cozy if spectacularly insular family life of the Kerrigans. They think almost as one. When Darryl rises to offer the toast at his daughter's wedding, he begins expansively with, "speaking as the bride's parents. . . ." Australia seems to abound with peculiar households, and the Kerrigans are wholesome, positive-thinking versions of such strange samples of Aussie family life as the dysfunctional weirdos in "Muriel's Wedding" and the sisters in "Love Serenade," who date a disc jockey who is a fish. I can picture them in the audience to view the finals in "Strictly Ballroom." The film develops suspense with a big (or, actually, a very small) courtroom finale. The Kerrigans determine to mount a legal battle against eviction and hire an attorney named Dennis Denuto (Tiriel Mora) to represent them, against his own advice (he specializes in repossessions).

    When he approaches the bench, it is to ask the judge, "How am I doing?" or to whisper urgently, "Can you give me an angle?" He gives the case his best shot (Dale informs us he "even learned Roman numerals" for the appeal), but it isn't until a kindly old expert in constitutional law (Charles "Bud" Tingwell) comes on board that they have a prayer.

    This is the sort of movie the British used to make in black and white, starring Peter SellersAlec GuinnessTerry-Thomas and Ian Carmichael. It's about characters who have a rock-solid view of the universe and their place in it, and gaze out upon the world from the high vantage point of the home that is their castle. The movie is not shocking or daring or vulgar, but sublimely content--as content as the Kerrigans when Mom not only serves pound cake for dessert but is so creative she actually tops it with icing sugar. At a time like that, she doesn't need to be told that she has kicked a goal.

    Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, May 04, 1999.

    ‘It’s the vibe’: 25 years on, how The Castle became an Australian classic

    The low-budget comedy has been quoted in the high court, made Bonnie Doon synonymous with ‘serenity’ and carved itself a unique space in the national imagination.

    Practically every Australian has a favourite line from The Castle. For some it is the serenity of Bonnie Doon, the daggy dad kitchen conversation (“what do you call that, darl?”) or the jousting sticks for sale on Trading Post (“tell him he’s dreamin’!”). For others, it is the classic exclamation: “This is going straight to the pool room!”

    “When we first did a sit-down read, it was just a funny, lovely, humble, charming little film,” Tiriel Mora, who played suburban solicitor Dennis Denuto, tells Guardian Australia. “But very much a little film. We shot it in 10-and-a-half days, and that included a half day in Canberra for the high court stuff. We couldn’t possibly know that it would resonate like it did.” But resonate it has, at the time and ever since. “It just grew and grew and grew,” he adds.

    The Castle tells the story of the Kerrigan family’s battle to save their suburban Melbourne home, their castle, from compulsory acquisition as the airport bordering the property seeks to expand. Father Darryl Kerrigan persuades local solicitor Denuto (more familiar with defending petty criminals – including Kerrigan’s son – than the constitution) to challenge the acquisition. After Denuto loses the case, retired barrister Lawrence Hammill QC (played by Bud Tingwell) offers to appeal pro bono to the high court. Against all odds, they win.

    For some, the most well-known and consequential of the numerous catchphrases of the film comes from the courtroom scene where Denuto flails haplessly for a legal authority to support his client’s case. “It’s the constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe,” says Denuto.

    “It is rare that popular culture and the high court intersect,” says George Williams, a law professor at the University of New South Wales. “Never have they done so more spectacularly than with The Castle. The movie places the high court at the centre of a David and Goliath battle that taps into deeply held Australian values around fairness and home.” Williams says that under the real law of section 51(xxxi) of the constitution (which prohibits the federal government compulsorily acquiring land other than “on just terms”), the Kerrigans would have lost. The opposite outcome however, he says, made for a better storyline.

    One reason for the film’s cult status is that its producers, Working Dog, have left The Castle to a life of its own. They have largely refused to speak publicly about the film; executive producer Michael Hirsh declined an interview request from Guardian Australia. In an interview last year with Radio New Zealand while promoting the TV series Utopia, Hirsh’s Working Dog colleague Rob Sitch said, “I think in some ways the smartest thing we did was stay out of the way. It’s been a gift that keeps on giving for us.” The movie is often repeated on Channel Nine and is available to stream on Stan.

    “What is so refreshing about The Castle is its profound Australianness,” says William MacNeil, an honorary professor at the University of Queensland and leading expert on law and culture. MacNeil says the film corrected the cultural cringe that had previously seen Australian audiences more familiar with US or British legal dramas. “Indeed, Denuto makes so much of its ‘vibe’ that the Australian constitution – hitherto unknown in terms of its dramatic possibilities – practically becomes a leading character in the film.”

    In turn, the amorphous “vibe” has permeated the typically rarefied language of the legal world. The concept has found its way into many legal arguments, including in numerous hearings before the high court. Denuto’s famous submission was quoted in a NSW court judgment in 2010, while a Queensland lawyer sued for $250,000 in defamation damages after being described as “Dennis Denuto from Ipswich” (he lost).

    Such is the movie’s resonance within the law that it was the only film to gain an entry in the Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia. In a rare break from his silence around the film, the entry was written by Sitch, who directed and co-wrote The Castle. “It is a sweeping saga that takes the harsh Australian outback, the rugged characters of the Anzac legend, the spirit of Banjo Paterson and ignores them in favour of a greyhound-racing tow truck driver who never meant to be a hero,” he jests.

    In the written entry, Sitch also takes aim at the high court authorities, who refused to permit filming inside the brutalist court building in Canberra. Instead, the courtroom scenes were filmed in Melbourne, before a quick trip to Canberra to film outside the high court. Mora recalls the filming was done on a freezing Canberra Saturday, with local journalists press-ganged into being extras. “That added authenticity,” he chuckles.

    But The Castle, released five years after the high court’s landmark decision in Mabo, also contained a more serious message. “The film was not just brilliant entertainment,” says Emeritus Professor Tony Blackshield from Macquarie Law School. “Its real social function was to communicate a deeper social understanding of the importance of Mabo.”

    Blackshield suggests that the scene where Darryl Kerrigan exclaims that his predicament has helped him understand how Indigenous Australians feel about dispossession “is the central point of the film”. (In another scene, Denuto somewhat mischaracterises Mabo in a legal argument: “That’s your classic case of big business trying to take land … and they couldn’t.”)

    The movie was released at a time of increasingly fractious national discourse, after Mabo and the Native Title Act had recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities had legal rights to land. “The film becomes this wonderful intervention, that flips this idea of home and country and land into a language that becomes identifiable [to mainstream Australian audiences],” says Professor Kieran Tranter, chair of law, technology and future at Queensland University of Technology. At a time when rightwing politicians and newspapers were arguing against native title, The Castle “sold a story to a nervous nation that was quite reassuring”, says Tranter.

    Mora suggests The Castle’s political message was “pointed and yet subtle” (although he acknowledges, laughing, “that doesn’t make sense”). “The very powerful underlying theme of the film is about justice, and that’s justice for all, not just for some people,” continues the actor. By using an ordinary suburban family as the vehicle, Mora suggests, it made “bigger questions of injustice to first Australians more approachable”.

    These remain live political issues (including before the high court). “[The Castle] touched on a very significant conversation that we are still having,” Mora adds. Whether it would be considered appropriate today to make a film indirectly addressing Indigenous issues with a largely white cast is questionable. “There are a lot of problems talking about [Indigenous] stories without having [Indigenous] representation,” admits Tranter.

    Asmi Wood, a Torres Strait Islander and professor at the Australian National University College of Law, says The Castle has withstood the test of time. An expert on Indigenous legal issues, Wood often discusses the film with first-year law students and is full of praise for its subtle political message. “To make people understand that there is another group of people who might feel alienated, for different reasons and different circumstances, but to create that level of empathy, I think the film is absolutely brilliant,” he says.

    But for all The Castle’s cultural commentary, legal legacy and political purpose, it remains popular because it guarantees a laugh. “I think it was very funny,” says Wood.

    Kieran Pender, The Guardian, 18th March 2022.

    What you thought about The Castle

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    25 (57%) 16 (36%) 3 (7%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 44
    Film Score (0-5): 4.50

    Collated Response Comments

    108 members and guests attend this screening with the number of responses of 44 giving a Film Score of 4.50 and a hit rate of 41%. Also, 65 members attended the AGM prior to the screening. Thank you all very much for your support during the season.

    Your collected comments are below: -

    “I'd like to make a general comment about the audience "scoring", which is simply that I really hope the committee only looks at the scores for a little bit of guidance, not as direction. Even when highlighting the "Least Popular Film", bear in mind the avg score is usually still positive i.e. anything above 3. This year's least, "Marcel..." had 44% responses as 4 or 5 ie Good or Excellent. Last year's "Licorice Pizza" had 66% Good or Excellent, avg at 3.57.

    I would be disappointed if the selection starts to become a little "safer". I don't think anyone's expectation should be to think they will find every film "great, just my kind of film!" Keep up the great work of variety, exotic, eclectic, weird and challenging! Thank you”.

    “Thank you to all who run the Excellent GFS. Loved the castle and wouldn’t have seen it without you! See you next season!

    “Who knew Australians were this sentimental? I tend to assume Aussie comedy dramas will come with a healthy dollop of abrasiveness, that the sentiment will be delivered in a tough, plain-speaking shell. Not so much here where the presentation of the Kerrigans is one of unalloyed affection for their, admittedly humorous, quirks. The closest comparison for me is the Ealing comedies; 'Passport to Pimlico', 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' etc where the underdogs take on the system and win. Though even those have a bit more bite than this. Not that it's not thoroughly likeable but there is little sense of real jeopardy which leaves it feeling a little saccharine and toothless”.

    “Mildly amusing but no more than that. Felt a bit "am-dram".

    “Based on the stats Michael presented before the showing it was worthwhile giving it a go, but if this is one of the most popular comedy films in Australia, I'm glad I'm not Australian”.

    “A fitting choice as the season end. Gently humorous and engaging film about the little person against big business and the state. It was always going to end well but was nonetheless enjoyable for it. Another really enjoyable season of diverse films, each of which had its merits. Thanks to the committee and volunteers and looking forward to the next season”.

    “So good for the soul!! Having battled ill health recently, the feel-good factor and the laughs were both So Healing. More laugh films please, (Tho i realise everyone's humour is different)”.

    “What's not to like? The story is a little predictable, but the humour and likability made the underlying serious story easy to watch with a sense of satisfaction. It's an unlikely hero's adventure of pursuing humble happiness, but he embodies principles and love. His real intelligence lies in his kindness, positivity, and human connection, which aren't always highly valued in this somewhat distorted society, but the movie implies their importance. Under the comic touch, the movie imparts lessons on the meaning of life, echoing those found in numerous books and videos by life coaches, but this one movie seems to offer the answer. Thus, it's an educational film and also a feel-good one. I'd recommend it to anybody. It was a wonderful end to the year. Thank you for the great year, Film Club committee”.

    “Giggled a lot, felt cheerful at the end. Having seen many movies about dysfunctional families, this was a warm timeless film with a simplicity. Every day is a good day for the Kerrigan family because it is nurtured by the seeds of gratitude and love, despite being surrounded by aerials and lead infused soil. But to the people who live there, it is a home without equal. Airport company and state agencies want to destroy the home look down their noses at this clan, but they have a great gift - happy family life. Darryl's struggle to save his family's home, despite its ramshackle quality from being taken over by airport expansionists seems doomed. So ensues a David-versus-Goliath battle, an inadequate lawyer friend Dennis has no experience of big law (failure haunts him like his useless photocopier!) Then chance (that old standby in feelgood films lets Darryl finds a retired lawyer specialising in constitutional law. Film shifts a gear, becomes even more emotive and victory comes. Liked the running gags that work well; "tell him he's dreaming" - and references to 'darl's' cooking ("What do you call this?" "Meat loaf" and "Ice cream") the film is all but irresistible and what a family! Darryl himself may be the most upbeat, positive father ever depicted on film. A good end to an enjoyable season”.

    “A great film to end with. We left with smiles on our faces. See you next season”.

    “A lovely objective film!”.

    “Little guy beats the big guys - funny - if only it ever happened in Oz“.

    “Laugh out loud. Tears rolling down cheeks. Lovely final film of the season. But touches profound issues. David v Goliath, aboriginal rights, how friendship and compassion can cross class barriers etc etc. A big thank you”.

    “A fun way to end what has been a very good season”.

    “Lovely film. Full of humour. A fitting end to a great year!”

    “A real feel-good movie”.

    “Loved it. Thank you”.

    “Perfect end to the season”.

    “Lovely film to finish the season”.

    “Just what the doctor ordered”.

    “Great film to end on”.

    “Very enjoyable. Best film yet”.

    “Brilliant. So funny. Excellent film to end the season”.

    “A wonderful end to the year”.

    “Very entertaining”.

    “Brilliant. A classic. Wonderful humour”.

    “Perfect end to the season”.

    “Good last film”.

    “Good fun – an excellent final film. More subtle than I expected”.

    “Uplifting. A great finale to the season”.

    “Very amusing. Ken Loach with humour”.

    “Reminiscent of Erin Brockovich! David beating Goliath”.

    “Well constructed. Funny with lots of moral lines”.

    “Wonderful story”.

    “Lovely to have a feelgood film to end with”.

    “Very enjoyable. Good film to finish the season!”

    “Slow moving at first but very funny in final half. Meaning issues dealt with”.

    “Good choice for end of season”.

    “A great film to end the season”.

    “What a good laugh!! Looking forward to next season”.

    “The Oz version of “Bank of Dave” and “Mr Bates v the Post office. Power to the brave little citizen”.

    “Thoroughly enjoyable”.

    “Great movie. So good to end the season with a good laugh. But there ere also many serious messages”.

    “Really feel-good film”.

    “Great actors. Great happy ending”.

    “Good laugh – just what we needed”.

    “Very funny”.

    “Quite amusing. Obviously dated. Bur a feel-good movie nonetheless”



    We have placed cookies on your computer to help make this website better. For more information please click here

    By continuing to use this site or closing this panel, we'll assume you're OK to continue. You can view our full privacy policy here