Lena Dunham’s adaptation of the 1994 novel is a charming watch, carried by a stand-out performance by Bella Ramsey.
Catherine Called Birdy follows the story of Catherine (who goes by Birdy, hence the title) as she comes of age in medieval times. Birdy must navigate family, love, loss, and the looming fear of being married off by her father, as she transitions into womanhood. The film is an adaptation of the 1994 novel of the same name by Karen Cushman.
While the entire cast of this film is well stacked, the obvious stand-out is Bella Ramsey, who carries the title role with a perfect balance of innocent charm and brassy candor. Her comedic timing is near impeccable, and her emotion in the more serious scenes is sincere. Undoubtedly, Ramsey will grow into a bona fide star in the coming years. Other cast standouts include Andrew Scott as Birdy’s father, Lord Rollo, and Joe Alwyn as the charming Uncle George.
Lena Dunham’s adapted screenplay is also one of the stronger aspects of the movie. While Dunham can certainly be divisive, Catherine Called Birdy showcases her at her best. She manages to take us into the mind of a fourteen year old girl in a way that is relatable, despite the different era in which the film is set, while keeping quick and witty charm that is reminiscent of a modern comedy – à la a watered down Fleabag meets Ted Lasso. Yet, the screenplay manages to keep a handful of heartfelt emotional scenes for balance; an emotional scene between Scott and Billie Piper (who plays Birdy’s mother, Lady Aislinn) is another standout point. Birdy is presented as naive and unsophisticated, but the script is never condescending to her, a testament to the talents of both Cushman and Dunham.
The directorial stylings feel true to Dunham’s prior work, with a touch of kitschy charm in the same vein as a Wes Anderson film, coupled with a coming-of-age directness reminiscent of a Greta Gerwig film. While Dunham’s signature raunchiness is sprinkled throughout, it never crosses the line into too much.
The production elements of this film are also stunning. Julian Day’s costumes are gorgeous (and should frankly receive Oscar attention), keeping true to the time period while still remaining bright and colorful to keep the tone of youthful joy. While it would certainly be difficult to not make Shropshire, England look beautiful, the overall production design and cinematography is also impressive, capturing the essence of the medieval times without being too gimmicky.
Ultimately, Catherine Called Birdy is a cute coming-of-age film that appeals to multiple age demographics. While it is not anything supremely groundbreaking, its light and heartfelt feel is a balm to the soul, and Bella Ramsey’s performance can only be described as charming. While the youthful tones of the film will appeal to younger audiences, the balance of tone will keep anyone engaged.
Should Be Considered: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett
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