Any film that does not try too hard to be smart is a sure-shot winner. “Catherine Called Birdy” is one such movie that does not go miles to prove its worth; the writers just deliver what was expected of them. It is the story of a young lady who navigates through menstrual cycles, single girl-related woes, first love, and a rebellious streak. The result is that “Catherine Called Birdy” is a film that stays with you and engages you with humor that does not feel stale. Adapted from the book by the same name by Karen Cushman, the film was released on Amazon Prime Video on October 7th, 2022 and written and directed by the supremely talented Lena Dunham.
What Happens In The ‘Catherine Called Birdy’ Film?
Catherine is the Lady of Stonebridge (Bella Ramsey), also known to her family as Birdy. She is the youngest daughter of Lord Rollo and Lady Aislinn and is portrayed as a strong, level-headed, and highly opinionated 14-year-old girl who goes miles to break the status quo that puts men on a pedestal and treats women as baby-producing machines. She has a supportive nanny, Morwenna (Lesley Sharp), a supportive mother, Lady Aislinn (Billie Piper), her best friend Aelis (Isis Hainsworth), and Perkin (Michael Woolfitt), who occasionally advises her to be strong but not too headstrong. She has two brothers; Robert (Dean-Charles Chapman), the next in line to the seat at Stonebridge, and Edward (Archie Renaux), who is training to be a Christian monk at a monastery. Her father, Lord Rollo (an excellent Andrew Scott), is slowly losing all the money to his lavishness; his treasury is slowly depleting, and the solution he comes up with to save his family from poverty is to marry off Birdy to a rich lord/merchant whose money will save them from bankruptcy. To Rollo’s dismay, Birdy refuses to oblige and goes to the point of hiding her blood-soaked linen to claim that she is just a child. Birdy also sabotages all the meetings she has with her suitors, even though she is aware that her actions will unleash her father’s wrath on her. Rollo, as per Birdy, is an insensitive and inconsiderate human being who is looking for his needs and isn’t worried about Birdy’s opinions or future.
Birdy is repeatedly told to behave like a lady, but she tends to rebel on every occasion. She is also attracted to her Uncle George (Joe Alwyn), who fought in the Crusades and has plenty of stories in his kitty for Birdy. He is the only individual who understands her and her struggles as a young girl. To her shock, George falls in love with Birdy’s best friend, Aelis. Soon after, Aelis is married off to a 9-year-old heir; George, to attain some financial stability, marries a rich widow. Birdy eventually becomes engaged to a rich loudmouth, Sir John Henry Murgaw, aka Shaggy Beard, as decided by her father, and she is unable to get out of the alliance. How does the story go forward from here, forming the plot of this bright film?
‘Catherine Called Birdy’ Ending Explained: How Does Birdy Get Out Of The Engagement With Sir John Murgaw?
Birdy is soon engaged to the rich yet foul-mouthed Sir Murgaw, against her wishes. She tries hard to push him over the edge so that he breaks off the engagement, but he finds her amusing and offers a bag full of coins for her to keep as an assurance. Aelis’s 9-year-old husband soon passes away, and Birdy’s brother Robert shows interest in marrying Aelis. Aelis’s father initially rejects the offer but soon accepts it once Birdy gives away the coins given by Sir Murgaw to her father. Robert and Amelia are married off, and Birdy is forced to consider living with Sir Murgaw. Birdy protests but soon makes an offer. She requests her father to let her stay at Stonebridge till her pregnant mother delivers. She will go away with her betrothed once the baby is born. Lord Rollo agrees to her terms.
On the day of the delivery, Birdy is surprised to see how considerate her father is with her mother throughout the labor. As per the agreement, Birdy is all ready to be shipped off to Sir Murgaw’s town when Rollo stops the convoy, and requests his daughter be returned to them (I know, regressive language) as he has changed his mind. Lord Rollo duels with Sir Murgaw and loses the duel. Rollo, with his Roberte, and the entire hamlet, forces Murgaw to leave Birdy. Birdy calls off her engagement, stays back at her father’s manor.
“Catherine Called Birdy” is a funny yet endearing tale of a father-daughter relationship. Even though Rollo and Birdie do not agree on most of the familial matters, Rollo makes sure that his daughter is safe and sound and considers her a priority. By the end of the film, Lord Rollo considers his wife’s words to make sure their children live on their own. Lena Dunham’s writing and direction of this medieval comedy uses the aspect of modernism. Since I have not read the book, I am not sure how faithful the screenplay is to the actual literature, but Lena Dunham gives a beautiful 2022 spin to a 1994 novel. The writing is funny and relatable, and the ending of the film is very simple but does leave a lasting impact. “Catherine Called Birdy” is all about women telling women stories. The end of the film also proves that, despite their differences, Rollo and Birdy have a strong father-and-daughter relationship.
Birdy, here, is a strong-headed girl who is currently living under circumstances that are not in her control. Her mother helps her navigate through the situations to get what she wants, which is the only way to survive for a lady in the patriarchal 11th-century society. Birdy’s mother’s support means a lot to her, and she speaks in favor of Birdy to Lord Rollo. All the supportive women around her help Birdy shape up to become a strong, level-headed woman.
The dialogues in the film are funny, which helps the narrative and keeps the audience hooked to the film till the end. The direction of the film felt very similar to the sensational “Fleabag” by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. A funny British character who talks to the audience to tell the tale from her point of view, something seen in Enola Holmes as well. This is a tried and tested formula to convey any story from a female perspective. Even though this seems a repetitive form of direction and screenplay, it works in “Catherine Called Birdy” because the screenplay here is smartly written and does not try to spoon-feed the audience.
Lena Dunham, the writer, and director of the film delivers a comedy that is full of smugness and, thankfully, does not go overboard with the comedy. The cast is the strongest pillar of the film; Bella Ramsey as Catherine, aka “Birdy,” Andrew Scott as Lord Sollo, Dean-Charles Chapman as Robert, and Billie Piper as Lady Aislinn steal the show. The humor in this film is not something that is seen in any other film set in medieval times, making the film surprisingly refreshing. The screenplay does not lag and focuses on Birdy’s life as a 14-year-old girl and her trials. The narrative does not deviate. That is why “Catherine Called Birdy” does not take the cliched route, and that is why you can watch it and appreciate its cleverness.
“Catherine Called Birdy” is now available on Amazon Prime Video with subtitles.