Catherine Called Birdy review – delightful coming-of-age charmer

By Marc Miller
Published: October 8, 2022 (Last updated: December 18, 2023)


Lena Dunham has adapted the tricky source material of the young adult novel by Karen Cushman and turned out a delightful coming-of-age charmer.

This review of the Prime Video film Catherine Called Birdy does not contain spoilers.

Lena Dunham‘s third feature film, the others being the mercurial Tiny Furniture and last summer’s tone-deaf Sharp Stick, Catherine Called Birdy, is her finest effort that has shown growth as a filmmaker. Based on the beloved young adult novel by Karen Cushman, Dunham has taken a tricky source material, especially in today’s world, and criticism of Dunham’s book passages that sparked several op-eds on child sexuality, into a delightful coming-of-age charmer.

Catherine Called Birdy follows the titular character in a coming-of-age story with a twist. Game of Throne’s Bella Ramsey plays Catherine, or “Birdy,” growing up in medieval 13th-century England. At the tender age of 14 years old. Birdy is precocious, has a lightning-quick wit, and has a good heart. She loves her life and her friends. That support system includes her beloved nursemaid, Morwenna (Lesley Sharp), and her friend Perkin (Michael Woolfitt). Birdy also has a doting mother, Lady Aislinn (I Hate Suzie‘s Billie Piper), her annoying brother, Robert (Dean-Charles Chapman), and her immature father, Lord Rollo (Spectre’s Andrew Scott). Unfortunately, her father spends money on useless items like a tiger from Siberia. This puts his family in a vulnerable position.

After assessing their financial problems, he concludes that his most wealthy asset is his only daughter, Birdy. To make matters worse, Catherine has just entered womanhood. (It is a hilarious scene where she begins to reconcile her life because the blood coming from her body means she is dying). Birdy must hide the fact so her frivolous spewing father does not sell her off to the highest bidder. As each wealthy suitor shows up, the spunky Birdy manages to scare them away. Catherine hopes her Uncle George (The Favourite’s Joe Alwyn) will save her. But he has his eyes on Birdy’s best friend, Aelis (Isis Hainsworth). But as we find throughout the movie, who one loves does not mean one woman will marry.

Dunham has such a distinct comic voice. It’s refreshing to have her honor the source material without filling her script with such quick wit and deadpan humor, all while layered with thoroughly enjoyable and top-notch performances. Most notably, Andrew Scott’s droll delivery is as close to perfection as one can get. He steals every scene he’s in, which is bright, giving him the film’s best lines since what he does is utterly despicable by selling off his daughter to the highest bidder. You also have lovely turns by The Full Monty‘s Lesley Sharp and The Wheel of Time‘s Sophie Okonedo, forming a beautiful canopy of love and empathy for the young girl.

However, the film is carried by the wonderful Ramsey, whose thoroughly enjoyable performance blends thoughtfulness and a key ingredient; she acts like a teenager trying to find her rebellious identity. Catherine Called Birdy is Prime Video’s most delightful film to date.

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