Adorably unusual, just like its main character. This is a pretty accurate description of Catherine, Called Birdie. The original Prime Video movie, based on the book Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman and directed by Lena Dunham, went unnoticed by many, but deserved closer attention.
Catarina (Bella Ramsey), affectionately called Passarinha, is a fourteen-year-old girl, free-spirited and ahead of her time. Which means a lot if folks live around the year 1292, mostly confused. When her father realizes that the only way to save the family property is by selling his daughter for marriage, the girl sets out to scare off all the suitors that show up. At the same time, she deals with the doubts, insecurities and first feelings of adolescence.
Narrated almost like a diary by the lead role, and with a modern language, the film’s idea is clear, to talk to Passarinha’s “contemporaries”, not in the period itself, but in age and spirit. with generation Z, very expressive and eloquent in their tiktoks and the like that most want to talk, despite being able to talk easily with the whole family.
Embracing this purposeful anachronism, Dunham (and perhaps Cushman, I haven’t read the book) intends to use the rigor and limitations imposed on women at the time, to talk about the impositions and demands still made on women today. The way of acting, the obligation to bear children, to always be obedient to a man, the impossibility of choosing the directions of one’s own life, are the main themes addressed here. Her discussion transcends its time and reminds us that the vast majority of women on the planet are still bound by many, if not all, of these societal conventions. A rich, complex and necessary discussion, even more so if we consider its young target audience.
There is also space to address sexuality and homosexuality, terms that did not even exist at the time. The making and falling of our idols, paternal love and friendship complete the package of subjects that this script embraces in one way or another.
While it offers good examples and rich discussions for boys and girls of all ages, the production creates an average age, which despite being anachronistic very realistic in the aspect that matters, its harshness. The simplicity and difficulty of everyday life, even in the more affluent classes, the rudeness of the clothes and even the precarious hygiene, build a very distinct time in a very particular portrait. Production design, hair and costumes are crucial in building this atmosphere. Again, not historically accurate, but efficient to the needs of this story.
The cast may be the biggest draw for some. Andrew Scott manages to build a personality for the protagonist’s father that escapes the expected cruelty. More irresponsible than evil, he really loves his daughter, despite punishments and forced marriage to the contrary. Billie Piper, Lesley Sharp and Sophie Okonedo create a trio of distinctive female role models. Each enriching the protagonist in a different way.
The big highlight, however, Bella Ramsey (Lianna Mormont from game of Thrones), which carries the narrative in a witty and energetic way. Birdie, yes, a little spoiled, irresponsible and at times even selfish, but Ramsey makes her adorable, which makes watching her mature so gratifying. Paul Kaye, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ralph Ineson and David Bradley round out the who-who in the seven kingdoms (respectively Thoros de Mir, Tomen Baratheon, Dagmer Cleftjaw and Walder Frey).
Catherine, Called Birdie It’s a period film designed for the children of our time, but it speaks well with the whole family. Purposely unusual and even a little weird, it has the potential to become a beloved “afternoon-session classic.” Or, in today’s format, endless reruns on Prime Video.