In Catherine Called Birdy, it is the 13th Century and 14-year-old girl Catherine – better known as ‘Birdy’ to her friends and love ones – lives with her family in a castle in Lincolnshire, England. From the outside, her family appear to be rich, but due to various bad financial decisions they are poor and getting poorer by the day.
The only way Birdy’s father, Lord Rollo, can see to make money is to marry Birdy off to a wealthy suitor. However, Birdy is unruly, unkempt, and as far as her father is concerned, not an easy sell.
There is another problem: Birdy does not want to be sold off. She has no plans to become anyone’s wife; certainly not anyone chosen by her father, and just wants to spend time with her friends.
But Birdy can only hold off for so long, and now that she has come of age (in a biological sense), time is running out. New suitors are on the horizon, and sooner or later she is going to have to marry – even if that means marrying someone long past his prime, and clearly unsuitable.
Written and directed by Lena Dunham, and based on the book of the same name by Karen Cushman, Catherine Called Birdy is a British, medieval coming-of-age teen comedy. The movie stars Bella Ramsey, Andrew Scott, Billie Piper, Lesley Sharp, David Bradley, and Paul Kaye, and arrives on Amazon Prime Video today, following a limited theatrical release in September.
Catherine Called Birdy is a witty romp, which puts a fun spin on the standard teen-to-adult comedies. It plays like a sort-of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008) meets Horrible Histories, and boasts a sharp script, and a cast of recognisable faces.
Although this is a period piece, the film has a fairly light touch, which ensures this movie doesn’t feel like a stuffy historical yarn that would alienate its intended audience. At all times it has one eye firmly on keeping things as contemporary as possible, with the occasional reworked pop song cropping up on the soundtrack.
The main aim of the film is to present a story about a young girl, making her way through adolescence while dealing with a difficult path ahead. Adulthood looms large, changes are taking place, and certain choices are beyond her control.
Some of these story beats are related to the time in which the movie is set, while the vast majority of the movie’s themes are very much timeless. As such, the film has the ability to transcend its period setting, to present a movie which can work for a contemporary crowd and become easily relatable for the right audience.
At the heart of the movie is Birdy, as played by Bella Ramsey. Ramsey gives a great performance, making Birdy feisty and spirited, yet very likeable, and this ensures the film hits all the right emotional beats and is steered by someone who can deliver the story.
Backing up the young actress is a cast of veteran actors, including Billie Piper and Lesley Sharp, as well as a brilliant turn from David Bradley, playing the vile (yet hilarious) Lord Gideon Sidebottom. However, the stand-out star of the movie is Andrew Scott, who takes on the role of Birdy’s father, Lord Rollo.
Although his character is emotionally all over the place throughout the movie, Scott seems to have a ball playing Rollo. Despite his seeming disinterest in the well-being of his daughter (at least, early into the movie anyway), there is a certain charm about Rollo, and Scott plays the part with a twinkle in his eye and his tongue firmly in cheek.
His performance, as well as the performances of all the cast, ensure this film feels elevated in all the right places. They also help to keep this film working at just the right level, so it can be a touching teen drama, while also playing a little bit like a good ol’ fashioned British pantomime.
Although Catherine Called Birdy is aimed at the teen market, and this is really who the film is looking to appeal to, there’s just enough fun in here to make it work for adults too. The cast and the comedic script keep things chugging along, while the themes and plotlines will be recognisable to all.
Enjoyable, heartfelt, and appealing, Catherine Called Birdy is a likeable picture. It has the ability to cheer up a wet weekend, and is perfect Sunday afternoon fair.
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