15 June 2024
From Catherine Called Birdy

BELLA RAMSEY stars in CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY Photo: ALEX BAILEY © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Prime Video review – Catherine Called Birdy (2022)

She’s made her name with her stories of contemporary women, usually twentysomethings struggling towards real adulthood and told with sharp and decidedly adult humour. But for her fourth film as a director, Lena Dunham has taken a gentler turn, one that takes her into the world of a teenager. And it’s one from the Middle Ages.

Catherine Called Birdy is based on Karen Cushman’s children’s novel of the same name.  Lady Catherine (Bella Ramsey), or “Birdy” as she’s known by her family and friends, is 14 and, this being England in the 1300s, the perfect age for being married off to a wealthy husband. Her father, Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott) puts the emphasis on wealth because of his own extravagance – buying tigers is his biggest weakness – but his defiant daughter is having none of it. She’s equally determined to stay single and has to find a way of stopping her father’s plans in their tracks.

All of which sounds like a modified Dunham. The feminist themes feel diluted, and that’s primarily because this simply isn’t a film aimed at adults. They’ll get laughs and smiles out of it, sure, but ultimately the target audience is Birdy’s own age group, and chances are they will lap up all its impudence and gutsiness. That it plays out, at times, like a British-made version of 2001’s A Knight’s Tale is only to its advantage: it may not have a soundtrack of rock classics, but the audacity and general sense of fun are most definitely there.

While there’s plenty of entertainment to be had, both tone and pace are disappointingly uneven at times, falling back on repetition as the film enters its second half. We’re given scenario after scenario of Birdy discouraging various unsuitable suitors – ironically, the worst of the lot is completely captivated by her rebellious nature – and, once you’ve seen a couple, you’ve seen them all. The characters, though, are very much a saving grace. Ramsey shows us Birdy as a typical teenager – spirited and mischievous yet insensitive and annoyingly selfish – and yet our contemporary attitudes mean we don’t just sympathise with her, we actively like her. There’s good performances too from Scott as her spendthrift father and Joe Alwyn as her Uncle George, the real object of her affection and who finds himself in the strange position of being treated like the women in the family – forced to marry a woman he doesn’t like. It could be worse: she is, of course, rich.

After meandering through most of the second half, Dunham manages to pull all the various threads in the story together to give us a neat ending. When the film works, it does so with gusto and a smile on its face but there’s one too many instances of it losing its way and that sparkle. Yes, there’s plenty of fun, but there could be even more.

★★★


Comedy | Cert: PG | Prime Video from 7th  October 2022 9coming | Dir. Lena Dunham | Bella Ramsey, Andrew Scott, Joe Alwyn, Billie Piper

Watch our interview with Andrew Scott and Joe Alwyn  .


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