Lena Dunham has written and directed a feature-length film, Catherine Called Birdie, an adaptation of Karen Cushman’s 1994 novel “Catherine Called Birdy.” I have not yet read the novel, but once I learned that it is about a young teen who is refusing to conform to the expectations of her parents/society, I knew it was a story I want to know about – even if I am not a young adult now. At some points in my younger life living in a small town with certain “expectations” I can certainly recall not wanting to do as I was told or follow in other’s footsteps that were not mine. Dunham’s adaptation introduces viewers to 14-year-Lady Catherine (Bella Ramsey, Game of Thrones) and how creative she becomes to avoid being married to anyone who approaches her father, Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott), young or older.
It is very entertaining to watch Ramsey verbalize her thoughts on marriage, and she is not prepared to do so, especially if that someone is not of her own choice. When she overhears a conversation, between her father with someone else, she totally resents how she is to be given to the highest bidder (or so it seems to her), for the sake of the family household’s economic needs. She may be a mere 14 years old, but she’s got more knowledge and attitude way beyond her age and the era – in the year 1290.
An interesting aspect of Dunham’s story is including Catherine’s change from child to woman with the arrival of her first monthly period. She is horrified at the thought that that motherhood is now possible. She has had the experience of watching her mother (Billie Piper) give birth, as well as lose the siblings during childbirth. She has many questions, as is expected, mostly answered by her doting nurse Morwenna (Lesley Sharp).
The one male she adores and appears to be the type of guy she would settle for is not available, as he is her mama’s little brother, Uncle George (Joe Alwyn). He too is not economically set, so Catherine is saddened by a choice that he makes. Little by little, Catherine begins to understand how the society works and that her views may not be views held by others who do find happiness. At one point when Catherine is seeking an alternative to marriage with a stranger, she approaches her best friend, Perkin (Michael Woolfitt) to marry her. Dunham selects a very different story line for him when he refuses her, also knowing that he is not of the economic status her father seeks.
When it comes time for the young teen to leave with the old, bearded guy with money, Dunham writes an ending that includes her papa, Lord Rollo and the village who loves their Lady Catherine. No spoilers from me at this point.
I do love what Dunham does with some pop songs that the younger set may find very entertaining for the scenes. I love Alicia Keys and hearing “Girl on Fire” in this film is quite a hoot in the moment. There may be reason to think the film may be only for younger viewers, but I think the writing is smart and can easily appeal to viewers of various ages/generations.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month and will be in limited theaters September 23rd and on Prime Video October 7th.
Rating PG-13 and 108 minutes long.
Source: Amazon Studios