Set within the thirteenth century, “Catherine Called Birdy” is a labor of affection for author/director Lena Dunham, who first learn Karen Cushman’s 1994 Newberry-winning novel of the identical title when she was simply ten years outdated. However, this extremely unfastened adaptation leans a little bit too closely into Dunham’s economically oblivious feminism, stripping the novel of a lot of its thematic heft, leading to crowd-pleasing, bawdy comedy that’s extra coronary heart than its head.
Girl Catherine aka Birdy (Bella Ramsey), the rebellious 14-year-old daughter of Sir Rollo Lord of Stonebridge (Andrew Scott, oddly presenting himself like a flamboyant Vibrant Younger Factor from the Nineteen Twenties than a lewd Medieval Lord), spends her days rolling within the mud, enjoying along with her greatest good friend the goat boy Perkin (Michael Woolfitt), and shirking her chores.
When Birdy begins her monthlies, aided by her nurse Morwenna (Lesley Sharp), she hides the very fact from her father for so long as potential. Having seen her loving mom Girl Aislinn (Billie Piper, doing the very best she will be able to to save lots of an underwritten function) undergo six stillbirth pregnancies, the very last thing Birdy desires to do is be married and grow to be a mom.
Nevertheless, because of the Lord’s extravagances, the one method to hold the property above water financially is to marry Birdy off to the best bidder. From there we comply with Birdy as she outwits suitor after suitor, secretly pining for her Uncle George (Joe Alwyn), the one good man she is aware of. That’s, till she turns into betrothed to a wily wealthy man known as Shaggy Beard (Paul Kaye, possibly the one actor who truly will get Medieval humor), who finds Birdy’s trickery alluring.
As she makes an attempt to discover a manner out of her destiny, Birdy witnesses each of her greatest good friends Aelis (Isis Hainsworth) married off to a nine-year-old baby Duke, and George make a match with an eccentric, but wealthy, a widow named Ethelfritha (Sophie Okonedo). Dunham clearly understands that during this period, most marriages have been a monetary matter. Ladies have been traded for titles, for land, or for chilly arduous money.
This is why it’s so unusual that the remainder of the financial realities of Cushman’s novel is universally discarded. Scott’s Lord of Stonebridge will get one scene the place he briefly explains how when he was 13 he needed to save the village by marrying Birdy’s mom, however, is minimized by Birdy calling him out for his personal monetary misdeeds. Within the novel, Cushman elegantly weaves within the financial realities of Lords and villages and the renting of land, explaining the best way they’re all tied up collectively in a financial system that largely solely advantages the Royals on the very high.
Why then, does the village through which Birdy and her household stay largely exude a bizarre utopian Medieval Occasions vibe? Birdy feedback on how her father’s Christmas feasts have been extra extravagant when she has been youthful, but by no means as soon as does she—or the film—ponder how worse off the remainder of the village should be within the trickle-down economics of all of it. Nor in all its lady energy will Birdy get out of this marriage scenario thrust does it, or her, appear to understand that her destiny can also be the destiny of the village. The cash from her marriage will assist all of them, not simply her father.
Cushman’s novel explored what it wished to be a youngster at the time of Medieval England, which is so totally different from our fashionable sensibilities that it could be like visiting a distinct planet. It takes a willful misreading—or disregard—of the e-book’s ethos to take away the economics from all of it, or to strip Birdy from the power and fortitude she reveals to find worth in her potential to save lots of her household, and her village.
One may argue all of this is able to make for a dour movie, but having learned the e-book each as a baby when it was first launched and extra not too long ago so as to refamiliarize myself with the fabric, I discovered it inspiring how nicely Cushman blends these critical issues with the identical bawdy humor that makes Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales nonetheless a hoot to learn almost a thousand years on.
And it is this humor that Dunham most faithfully carries on in her adaptation, with flatulence jokes aplenty. Though, a lot of the movie’s jokes don’t align with that of Chaucer, however fairly rooted in wordplay that’s humorous for contemporary viewers’ ears solely. Nevertheless, Dunham isn’t Monty Python, and lots of the jokes are both pressured or don’t land in any respect. One sight gag with a pigeon arrives lifeless on arrival—actually.
Ramsey is certainly a discovery. Birdy’s spirit is sort of a wild, roaring brook whose nature is to maintain flowing it doesn’t matter what obstacles lay earlier than her. Sadly, key modifications from the e-book’s ending rob her of what needs to be a transformational coming-of-age. As an alternative to discovering their worth of herself from the inside, she turns into a damsel to be saved by a person, her worth in the end stemming from her father’s realization of his love for her. Whereas this makes for an emotional finale, particularly for Scott, it deprives the character—and Ramsey—of an enormous second of self-actualization.
Each movie adaptation has to select and select what parts of its supply materials to retain and what to jettison. It’s unlucky then that for “Catherine Called Birdy,” Dunham sticks so carefully to the floor, abandoning its sturdy basis. There are certain viewers for this type of feel-good quote-un-quote feminism. However, an e-book of such richness, with a heroine as complicated as Birdy, deserves far more than this genial Renn Faire romp.