It’s the year 1291, and everything is about to change for young Catherine (Bella Ramsey), the spirited 14-year-old daughter of the lord and lady of the village of Stonebridge. Catherine, called Birdy for her collection of birds, had just gotten her period. Convinced she is dying (“The blood came from my bum!”), her patient maid Morwenna (Lesley Sharp) tries to explain the facts of life while swaddling and swaddling and swaddling a pad of fabric around her hand to show Birdy the necessaries. It’s like a medieval Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but with an outhouse with which to hide your rags to keep your dad from finding them.
Now that Birdy is of marrying age, her dad, Lord Rollo (the always delightful Andrew Scott), sees an opportunity to marry her off to a rich suitor to stabilize the family’s finances (Lord Rollo is not the best lord for his village, having peddled away much of their fortune on whims and bad ideas). Birdy is petulant, however, preferring to hang out with Perkin the goat-boy (Michael Woolfitt) who is kinda hot but is “Sorely affflicted with wind in his bowels” or her BFF Aelis (Isis Hainsworth), her closet bosom friend.
Potential suitors start arriving from across the land (watch for a small, hilarious appearance by Russell Brand), but are promptly rebuffed by Birdy being as obnoxious as possible, to the great horror of her father. But things get real when the really rich, and equally as repulsive lord that Birdy dubs Shaggy Beard (Paul Kaye) shows up. He is delighted rather than repulsed by her hijinks, and agrees to a delayed timeline… at that set time, he will come to get his new bride.
There are things in this story that contemporary audiences will probably find “troublesome”… like teenage girls getting married off as currency, or Birdy getting beaten by her dad when she misbehaves (which is a lot). But this IS historical fiction, and I’m not sure audiences picked apart the factual accuracy of, say, The Princess Bride. Considering this takes place in the Middle Ages, it’s all surprisingly relatable. Teenage whims are translated for a different time, like crushing on hot young monks, or thinking your gorgeous Uncle George (hottie Joe Alwyn) is the cat’s meow, a real hero having come back from the Crusades. Birdy imagines a different future for herself, but social mores and expectations are holding her down. I’m sure we can all relate to that.
Going in to Catherine Called Birdy, I had absolutely no idea what to expect and was almost instantly surprised and delighted. Adapting Karen Cushman’s popular award-winning YA book, director Lena Dunham has put her stamp on the story, unsurprisingly showing a flair for a story about a sassy teen girl. Bella Ramsey brings the story together as an appealing lead, but the supporting cast is also uniformly fabulous. I can easily count on two hands actors that managed to make an impression, even in minor roles, which shows deft handling and respect by the director.
Catherine Called Birdy is a delightful hoot. I really enjoyed this film as an adult… but I also know that I would have really LOOOOOOVED this movie as a tween!