Based on Karen Cushman’s popular novel of the same name, Catherine Called Birdy, is a 13th century based coming-of-age story centred around Lady Catherine of Stonebridge. Cushman’s novel, which debuted in 1994, was regarded as a ‘spirited’ telling of what life in 1290 must’ve been like for a child during these times. Much of that spirited nature, along with a good dash of modern humour, has been adapted for the screen by Girls creator, Lean Dunham, serving as the films screenwriter and director.
Lady Catherine, or as she prefers to be called, Birdy (Bella Ramsey, Game of Thrones), is a teenager who spends her days living fun-filled and free, running amuck with her friends all around her father, Lord Rollo’s (Andrew Scott, Fleabag), manor. What Birdy doesn’t know, is that her father is in dire financial strife, and greedy enough to do whatever it takes in order to keep the manor and luxurious life he lives. Without her consent or knowledge, Lord Rollo puts Birdy forward to several, much older and wealthier, suitors to wed Birdy. But the cunning and inventive Birdy sets out to do everything in her power to make sure any potential marriage does not go ahead.
Catherine Called Birdy is an energetic film, bouncing off the walls with immense amounts of heart and fun. Ramsey’s performance as Birdy is a big part of that energy and is incredibly spirited as she embodies disdain of the insane ideologies of 13th century society, but in a way that is dripping with fun authenticity. Ramsey’s varying ability to go from scene to scene, with some demanding a lot from her emotionally, acts as the engaging anchor of the story. Even when providing a journal-like voiceover to fill the gaps of how the story is moving through time, is done far better than other films that have used voiceover like this previously, as it adds even more depth to Birdy as a character.
The strength of the supporting cast is another reason this movie works so well. Although morally challenging, Andrew Scott gives an encapsulating turn as Birdy’s father, Lord Rollo. The moments where the greed and weakness of his character will undoubtedly cause eye-rolls and disappointment, his commitment to push his acting right to the edge of ‘over-the-top-camp’ and balancing that with his moments of heartbreak or levity incredibly well. Acting as Birdy’s moral support and compass are her Uncle George (Joe Alwyn, Conversations With Friends) and friend Ethelfritha Rose (Sophie Okonedo, Death on the Nile), who carry a fantastic scene with Ramsey during the second act of the film that encapsulates the film’s heart in a truly heartbreaking moment. There are some fantastic small cameos throughout, the standout being a hilarious interaction between Birdy, and a potential Lord (played by Russell Brand) who has travelled far to meet Birdy.
Director Lena Dunham has done a great job at infusing an upbeat, modernised feeling into the source material, without it feeling like it’s trying too hard to feel ‘cool’. Characters occasionally throw modern lingo in with speech that feels appropriate for the time period, but often it’s used for comedic effect. The comedy in this film works on many levels, predominantly though through the interactions between Birdy and the other characters. Birdy’s wit and innocence as she goes through all the stages involved with turning into a woman (including a very funny but heart-warming scene about Birdy’s first period), allow the film to explore and explain these themes in a caring way, something that younger audiences will most likely feel challenged by in real life. This is obviously something that Dunham cares for, especially based on her previous work, and her ability to navigate these themes in an entertaining way shows how she has continually grown as a filmmaker.
On a visual level, the production value behind this movie is quite noticeable, with immersive 13th century sets and locations that transport you into this world. Dunham’s direction works well at accentuating the time period, but also captures intimacy with the characters using sharp focused cinematography. The way Dunham moves the camera also adds to that ever-lasting energy the film has.
Catherine Called Birdy is a heart-felt, well-paced, coming-of-age comedy that also isn’t afraid to break your heart in certain moments. Lena Dunham has adapted the source material in a way that shows care and respect for the original book, but invigorates it with so much energy, which is matched by a brilliant lead performance from Bella Ramsey and a great supporting cast.
Catherine Called Birdy will premiere on Prime Video on October 7.
Be the first to leave a review.