Lena Dunham’s warm and spirited adaptation of Karen Cushman’s 1994 historical novel, “Catherine, Called Birdy,” opens with a needle drop that references another classic teen movie. Misty Miller’s version of the ’90s Supergrass song “Alright” plays when a young Lady Catherine (named Birdy), played by Bella Ramsey from “Game of Thrones,” finds herself in the middle of a mud fight during a raucous construction of a country house in his medieval English village.
The choice of song (one of the few great ’90s covers Miller performs throughout the film), is a high-five to Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film “Clueless,” and inextricably links the two films. . One is an adaptation of a novel written in the 90s, set in medieval times, the other is based on a Jane Austen novel from the Regency era and set in the 90s, but both movies are about a virgin who can’t ride. The reference is a charming way of reminding us, as “Catherine Called Birdy” frequently does, that the problems that plague childhood are often the same, no matter the time.
Dunham has said that adapting the book is a long-standing passion project, and the care and love he has for the story and the characters, both in his writing and direction, is palpable. Like “Clueless”, it is a film that feels natural, energetic and dynamic; he is thickly verbose, witty and wise, demanding to rewatch as many times as possible.
There is a fluid naturalism and energy to the film that starts on the page and flows through the movement of the camera and the physicality of the actors. Dunham has nailed the language and tone of this piece. The writing is crisp, clear, with a distinct voice, but never too explicit; it’s modern and relatable, yet thoroughly medieval. Anachronistic songs may soundtrack these events, but the creative trials, tribulations and curses that Birdy dreams of are all from feudal England.
Birdy is going through that difficult time when she’s not a girl, she’s not a woman yet. She puts her menstrual rags on the floor of the latrine to hide them, because having her period is a high-risk business. It means her father, the fey and funny Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott) can marry her off to the highest bidder to save the mansion’s finances. Birdy rebels against the wife’s life with defiance but also with fear. Her mother, Lady Aislinn (Billie Piper), struggles to have healthy babies.
“Catherine Called Birdy” chronicles this different time of transition, as told by Birdy herself in a diary written for her brother Edward (Archie Renaux), a monk. When the suitors arrive, Birdy tries to foil the marriage plot as best she can with pranks and pranks, relying on her best friends, Perkin (Michael Woolfitt) and Aelis (Isis Hainsworth), while fighting with her brother Robert (Dean-Charles Chapman). and occasionally pining for her handsome Uncle George (Joe Alwyn).
But while the plot deals with the purpose and function of marriage, the story of “Catherine Called Birdy” is one of deeply felt love and family bond, expressed earnestly and humorously by Ramsey, Piper, Chapman, Renaux and especially Scott, who makes Rollo endearing in his pleas to marry off his daughter. The casting is one of the unique aspects of this film: Lesley Sharp and Sophie Okonedo give charming performances as two of the mentors who help raise and guide Birdy out of her family, while Paul Kaye of “Game of Thrones” does a splendid performance. lewd antagonist.
“Catherine Called Birdy” is Dunham’s best writing and directing work to date; it’s an easy, light-hearted, emotionally good moment and an instant teen classic, just like its predecessor, “Clueless.” With his two excellent 2022 movies, including “Sharp Stick,” it’s clear that even in a post-“Girls” world, Dunham will never stop inspecting the inner lives of girls, in all its playful, pragmatic, and poignant complexities.
Katie Walsh is a film critic for the Tribune News Service.
‘Catherine called Birdy’
Classified: PG-13, for some suggestive material and thematic elements
Execution time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: Alamo Drafthouse, downtown Los Angeles; Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; Century Huntington Beach; October 7 stream on Prime Video