CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY
October 7, 2022 / Prime
Starring: Bella Ramsey, Billie Piper, Andrew Scott, Lesley Sharp, Joe Alwyn
Directed By: Lena Dunham
In medieval England, the daughter of a financially destitute Lord thwarts her father's plans to marry her off to a wealthy suitor. When the most vile suitor arrives, her parent's love for her is tested.
Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Catherine Called Birdy is a delightful and hilarious coming of age story anchored by a terrific performance by Bella Ramsey.
While Lena Dunham made waves with her hit HBO series Girls, I have never actually seen any of her writing or directorial efforts until Catherine Called Birdy, but the cast of this project alone was enough to convince me to check it out. While it is based on the 1994 best selling children’s novel by Karen Cushman, you can feel Dunham’s influence on the source material throughout the film. The original novel was published in a diary format, which lends itself nicely to the fourth wall breaking narrative style of the film as we meet Catherine, or as her friends and family call her Birdy, as she navigates life being a teenage girl in the Middle Ages. Her main challenge: outsmarting her father who is constantly trying to marry her off for their family’s own gain, despite Birdy having no intention of marrying at the age of fourteen.
Dunham infuses her comedic writing abilities throughout the coming of age story, providing a film that is reminiscent of classic teen comedies like Clueless, that features an independent lead female character for younger female viewers to look up to. It is nothing groundbreaking or new within the genre, but the mixture of humour and its heartfelt nature makes it a fun watch from start to finish.
And this is mostly thanks to Bella Ramsey’s sensational performance as Birdy. Having her breakout role in Game of Thrones as the fan favourite character Lyanna Mormont, Ramsey is making her name as a leading lady between this film and the upcoming HBO series The Last of Us. In this film, Ramsey does her best Alicia Silverstone Cher impression combined with the spunk of Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool, and the results are nothing short of excellent. Carrying the film from start to finish, every scene is bursting with an infectious energy that immediately bonds the audience to Birdy thanks to Ramsey’s screen presence, natural charm and sarcastic toned delivery of every line of dialogue. She encompasses the perfect mischievous nature to bring this character to life, ensuring that every comedic moment delivers great laughs as you see her outsmart her father. But throughout all this, Ramsey slowly develops Birdy as she begins to view her world with the perspective of an adult, while maintaining her unique personality that never compromises her core values. It's a performance that only continues to display Ramsey’s incredible talent and star power, that is sure to explode across the industry next year when The Last of Us is released.
Equally as impressive is the supporting cast. Andrew Scott is great as Birdy’s father, never failing to miss the obnoxious toxic masculinity of his character, going from “hot priest” to “medieval daddy” and certain to inspire even more internet memes. At the same time, he manages to paint a portrayal of a loving father, who despite his misguided intentions to ensure his family receives the funds they need to keep him acquired to his lifestyle, truly cares for his daughter and would do anything for her. His scenes with Ramsey are delightful, with the two of them having a wonderful banter as they hurl comedic one liners at each other. Lesley Sharp, David Bradley, Ralph Ineson and Russell Brand all have fun supporting roles and help bring some funny moments to the story with their interactions with Ramsey, and Joe Alwyn fits nicely into the role of Birdy’s uncle.
Though, the standout of the supporting cast is Sophie Okonedo as Alwyn’s new wife Ethelfritha. Ridiculous name aside, Okonedo is a warming and calming presence to the film, imparting wisdom onto Birdy and helping her mature and grow up in this world where she finds societal pressures weighing on her. I don’t know what it is about Okonedo, but she always brings her A-game and is an instant standout to me, no matter what film she is in.
Being a period piece set in the Middle Ages, the film has good costume and production design to recreate the Middle Ages. It’s not extravagant by any standards given the made for streaming budget of the film, but it is more akin to the actual time period rather than the Hollywood extravaganza we are used to with these types of films. Lena Dunham’s adaptation of Karen Cushman’s novel is fun, bursting with laughter and that feel good nature you expect from a coming of age story, but it is the terrific lead performance of Bella Ramsey that makes Catherine Called Birdy one to check out if you enjoy teen coming of age comedies.