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Film / The Castle

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"Tell 'em they're dreamin'!"

The Castle is a 1997 Australian film from the company that would become known as Working Dog Productions, focusing on an ordinary family of "Aussie battlers" who live next door to an international airport. Their life is turned upside-down when the government tries to force them out of their house, but the family stands their ground and fights it both in and out of the courts.

Regarded by many to be the greatest Australian comedy film ever made, thanks to its endlessly quotable catch phrases and heartwarming story. The dialogue is heavy on Australian expressions, colloquialisms and cultural references. A partially redubbed version replaces some of the dialogue with Americanized expressions.

The film focuses on the close-knit Kerrigan family, made up of a mother and father and their four adult kids (and one son-in-law).


  • Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton): The Patriarch, an affable tow truck driver and family man. Hobbies include greyhound racing and home improvement.
  • Sal Kerrigan (Anne Tenney): loving mum and fantastic cook (at least in Darryl's eyes). A fan of arts and crafts.
  • Wayne Kerrigan (Wayne Hope): The Quiet One who is serving a prison term for armed robbery. The only downer in the Kerrigans' otherwise idyllic life.
  • Steve Kerrigan (Anthony Simcoe): The older brother whose main pastime is reading the Trading Post (a popular classified ads paper) for good deals on useful junk. Evidently inherited the DIY gene from his dad, because he has a knack for inventing things around the home. He's an ideas man.
  • Dale Kerrigan (Stephen Curry): the Narrator of the story, prone to redundantly narrating the obvious in his narration. Likes digging holes.
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  • Tracey Kerrigan (Sophie Lee): Daddy's Girl, a certified hairdresser. Once featured as a contestant on the Australian version of The Price Is Right.
  • Con Petropelous (Eric Bana): an accountant and avid kickboxer who is newly married to Tracey. This was Eric Bana's first cinematic role, and even here he was kicking arse!

The Kerrigans are informed that an airport consortium is buying them out to make way for a new freight terminal. Darryl can't believe that the law can allow such a thing. "A man's home is his castle!" However, the legal doctrine of compulsory acquisition (aka compulsory purchase, or eminent domain) says they have no choice in the matter.

Darryl decides to fight the compulsory acquisition with the support of his neighbours. He enlists the help of his small-time suburban lawyer Dennis Denuto (Tiriel Mora), whom he has complete faith in, but Dennis's inexperience in the courtroom almost spoils the case. To make matters worse, the unseen and powerful consortium backing the project make very clear they are going to get their way, whether by the book or by resorting to threats and intimidation.

Just when all seems to be lost, Darryl strikes up a chat with Lawrence Hammill (played by the venerable late actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell), who happens to be a retired Queen's Counsel experienced in the area of Constitutional law. Lawrence offers to help Darryl take his case all the way to the highest court in Australia...and the rest is history.

Not to be confused with American murder-mystery series Castle, or the novel The Castle by Franz Kafka. Or castles as a setting, which mostly Haunted Castle.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney: There are a few that pop up as the defense counsel. A particularly intimidating one comes around to Dennis's office and tries to get him to persuade Darryl to settle the case.
  • Artistic License – Law:
    • Averted for most of the film. Only during Lawrence's Rousing Speech to the High Court do we get a break from reality, and an appeal to emotion - that even fair monetary compensation can never be "just terms" for the acquisition of your cherished family home and its irreplaceable value. Unfortunately, that's taking things a little too literally. In Real Life money is basically regarded as the best form of compensation under the law.
    • During the trial, only three judges hear the case, while a case involving Australian Constitutional law would require a "full bench" of seven judges to hear the case. In addition, the judges wear British-style red robes and wigs even though at the High Court they stopped wearing them in 1988 (and the Mabo case cited by their lawyer was decided in 1992, so the film can't be set before 1988).
  • Berserk Button:
    • In one of the court scenes, the opposing lawyer refers to the Kerrigans' home as a 'dwelling' in a tone of voice that makes it clear that he's using the most courtroom-acceptable term he can think of for it. Darryl hotly rebuts that if there were more homes like his - and the opposing lawyer cuts him off and says that if there were, the jails would be full of people like his son. Darryl goes berserk and the judge tells the opposing lawyer to stop being a dick.
    • Also, since Wayne's incarceration, guns. The one time we see Darryl get truly angry at a member of his beloved family is when Steve ejects a goon from their property at gunpoint.
  • The Bogan: The Kerrigans downplay this stereotype, though they arguably fall into a "higher-functioning" variant; they're a bit uncouth, unsophisticated and uneducated, but lack the stereotypical aggression, anti-social tendencies (towards violence [although Wayne did rob a service station], excessive drinking etc.) and crassness that also go along with it. They also lack the xenophobia, as they are welcoming to their Greek in-laws and get along well with their Arab neighbor.
  • Bookends: "My name is Dale Kerrigan, and this is my story..."
  • Brick Joke: Dale mentions in his narration that sometimes when he's feeling happy, he thinks about his brother in jail and gets sad. In a later scene, he walks in on a heartwarming moment and smiles, then suddenly looks sad.
    • The gates Darryl and Steve nick and the local police sergeant let them slide on because of the intimidation and threats the family are going through? Darryl actually uses them on his home.
  • Buffy Speak: "Dad, you haven’t let anyone down. I don’t know what the opposite of letting someone down is... but you've done... the opposite."
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: Darryl's lawyer is presenting his case in the High Court and the opposing lawyer tells the judge that the precedent just quoted was merely an example of obiter dictum. Darryl, highly offended, yells "Was not!" For non-lawyers: judges decide cases based on the reasoning used in past decisions. If a reasoning was used to decide a case, judges are much more willing to follow it than if the past judge was imagining what-if scenarios and deciding how things would be decided in that situation. Those what-ifs are obiter dicta. Of course, even if you don't know your law, the reactions of the judge and lawyers are enough for watchers to realize this trope is in play.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Tell him he's dreamin'!" (Darryl's advice to Steve whenever a Trading Post seller's asking price is too high)
    • "This is going straight to the pool room!"
    • "How's the serenity?" (bug fried by zapper/plane flies overhead/motorboat zooms past)
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The movie's loaded with them. Especially whenever Dennis has to deal with his photocopier.
  • Consolation Prize: Tracey doesn't go home empty handed from The Price Is Right. "She still managed to come home with a tumble-dryer and drill set!"
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Darryl loves to stand in his yard and marvel at such wonders as television aerials and power lines. "A testament to man's ability to generate electricity."
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The antagonists, but they're never shown on screen. All we know is that they're called the "Barlow Group" and they're comprised of some of the richest and most powerful men in the country. They deal with the main characters with through letters, lawyers and in two cases threats and criminal intimidation.
  • David Versus Goliath
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The whole parallel between Darryl's struggle and Aboriginal land rights.
  • 15 Minutes of Fame: "Mum reckons its funny how one day you're not famous, and then the next day you are. Famous. And then you're not again."
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Even though Dale says it's "My Story" and narrates it, he doesn't actually do all that much in the film other than visiting Wayne in prison and digging some holes (one of which fills with water).
  • Foreshadowing: When Darryl and Lawrence are having their first conversation and the subject of Darryl's case comes up, Lawrence mentions that he hasn't heard of Darryl's lawyer "in constitutional law". This is a pretty big clue that Lawrence might know more on the subject that Darryl suspects, which may come in helpful.
  • Funny Foreigner: Farouk, Darryl's very Arab neighbour.
    "You have friend, I have friend. My friend go to your house, put bomb under your car and blow you to fucking sky!"
    (explaining the above to Darryl, later) "Please understand, I don't really have friend like this, but, you know, I am Arab, and everybody think all Arab, he have bomb."
  • Happily Ever After
  • Happily Married: Darryl and Sal. She cooks, he buys things for the pool room. And they wouldn't have it any other way.
  • It's the Principle of the Thing: Most ordinary people would have taken the money, but Darryl risks everything he's got on his convictions. As Sal relates in the story of how they met, Darryl's principled and chivalrous behaviour are what attracted her to him in the first place.
  • Land Down Under: Of course, but The Castle is probably a hundred times more genuine to the Aussie way of life than Crocodile Dundee.
  • Metaphorgotten: "It's the vibe!"
  • Money Dumb: The second son, Steve Kerrigan, whose main hobby is said to be browsing the trading post. Throughout the movie he announces a number of odd things he's found for sale and wants to buy, such as jousting sticks, a pulpit, and a chicken coop.
  • Mr. Fixit: Steve invents such wonders as the "motorcycle helmet with brake light in the back" and the "cleaning brush with a hose attached".
  • Mugging the Monster: At one point, a hired goon shows up at the Kerrigan house and tries to intimidate them into giving up their claim. He's a bit surprised to find a rifle shoved in his face and decides to withdraw. Farouk, the family's middle-eastern neighbour, invokes this by weaponising racial prejudice; he informs several of the blokes who show up to threaten him that he knows people who can put a bomb in their car (later, he tells his neighbours that he doesn't really know someone who can do this, but because he's an Arab he knows that people think that Arabs have bombs).
  • Not In My Back Yard: The entire movie is an inversion of this trope. The Kerrigans live a few hundred metres from an airport runway. Massive power lines pass right over their backyard. And the Kerrigans love it that way.
  • Odd Friendship:
    • Darryl and Lawrence, who couldn't come from more different origins regarding class or education but eventually bond over their love of family and fishing.
    • Lawrence and Dennis provide an interesting contrast too - Lawrence's background is top flight "big picture law", while Dennis has always handled bread-and-butter legal work like wills and conveyancing. And he can't read Roman numerals.
  • Omnidisciplinary Lawyer: Discussed and ultimately averted. The main character wants his suburban local lawyer to work on a constitutional law case despite his pleas that he doesn't know anything about it. And indeed that's held up - the guy is useless in every trial we see him in (the best argument he can come up with is 'It's in the Constitution, it's just... it's the vibe.'), and the protagonist only wins in the end because they manage to get an actual Queen's Counsel who specialises in constitutional law onto their side.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Downplayed for comedy, Darryl has some rather outdated attitudes even by the time of production. During his daughter's wedding to a man of Greek heritage, he gives a speech admitting that he was initially nervous about the coupling because "the Greeks have a reputation." But the movie makes clear that there's no real malice to him, and it's more out of ignorance than anything.
  • Running Gag: The reason the movie's Catch Phrases are so memorable.
    Dale: Dad? I dug another hole.
  • Self-Deprecation: Portrays typical lower-class Australians as being rather dim, naive, racially ignorant and politically incorrect. Australians love it. Although it helps that while the Kerrigans are racially ignorant, they're not malicious, and ignorance is repeatedly shown to be correctible - Daryl learns a little Greek to talk to his in-laws and comes to a deeper understanding of the Native Title issue as a result of his struggles in the film.
  • Serious Business: Part of the comedy and the drama comes from the fact that the home the Kerrigans are fighting so hard to defend is, by many standards at least, not that great. It's directly under the flight path of a major airport, meaning that there's near-constant noise; it's in a bit of a run-down area; most of the home-improvements Darryl has done are a bit sketchy; it's implied that the land it's built on is rather polluted ("Whaddaya know about lead?")' and their general taste in home-furnishings can be a bit gaudy and tacky. However, the film makes it clear that when push comes to shove none of this matters; when it comes down to the crunch it's their home, they love it unconditionally, and they'll fight as hard as they can to keep it.
  • "Setting Off" Song: "We're goin' ta Bonnie Doon"
  • Shout-Out: To iconic Aussie TV shows Hey Hey It's Saturday and The Price Is Right. Both were still on the air at the time.
  • Shown Their Work: The power of compulsory acquisition is a genuine Constitutional power in Australia. The characters cite real-life Constitutional law cases as both sources of inspiration and in courtroom argument. In addition, Darryl's case follows the correct hierarchy of appeals for decisions made under federal power (Administrative Appeals Tribunal; Federal Court; High Court on a question of Constitutional law). The film is often taught in Australian high school classes on Legal Studies because of its constitutional themes. Two of the film's four credited writers (Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner) are both lawyers by training.
  • This Is My Story: Quoted by Dale (it's not) as part of the running gag about his obliviousness.
  • Trophy Room: The "pool room" is where Darryl keeps his greyhound trophies, family photos and cherished gifts. If he truly appreciates something, he declares it will go "straight to the pool room."
  • Two Decades Behind: Despite being made in the late 1990s, you could swear the characters are stuck in the 80s. One character even uses a typewriter!
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue:
  • Working-Class People Are Morons: The movie gets plenty of laughs out of the fact that the Kerrigans aren't exactly the smartest clan around, and most of their peers aren't much better. They're still good people and the movie's firmly on their side, though.