By Kathryn McDonald
It is safe to say that we have entered an era in which film has begun attempting to adapt stories to be relatable and raw like never before. For teens, this means gone are the days of movies and television which do not address the daily concerns of adolescent life. The trend seems to be, however, that stories are told at the expense of any kind of historical accuracy. Modern concerns become the focal point of historical dramas, and while an honest look at daily life can be refreshing, ridiculous adaptations of historical fiction continue to be released and promoted to audiences with disappointing results.
“Catherine Called Birdy”, based on the book of the same name by Karen Cushman, is a loosely historical coming-of-age dramedy set at the end of the thirteenth century in England.
The premise of the story is that the mischievous Lady Catherine (Bella Ramsey), known to her friends as Birdy, is beginning to face the wild world of womanhood and is in denial about the childhood that she must now put behind her. The youngest living child of Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott) and Lady Aislinn (Billie Piper), Birdy’s world is one of fun and games until the unexpected arrival of her period which then marks the beginning of adulthood for Birdy.
Now that she is a woman, her father decides to escape the life of poverty he has brought upon his once-wealthy family by marrying Birdy off to the highest bidder. Birdy is determined to avoid marriage at all costs which leads to a string of disappointed suitors who Birdy either scares off or uses her wits to avoid.
Navigating life alongside Birdy are her friends Aelis (Isis Hainsworth), Perkin (Michael Woolfitt), and her trusted mentors which include her nursemaid Morwenna (Lesley Sharp) and Uncle George (Joe Alwyn).
At the behest of her brother Edward, a monk, Birdy begins a diary in which she records the highs and lows of growing up. Her adventures include training to become a lady, her first kiss, planning to run away from home with her best friend(s), and many mischievous plots to disrupt her family life.
It is interesting to see how a book written as a diary was adapted for the screen. First-person narration and a fast-paced plot create the feeling that the audience is along for the ride, similar to the style of the original story.
It can be noted that while marketed to younger audiences, the content may be more appropriate for older teens and young adults. Constant references to sex, gender, and more adult jokes make this less of a movie to help teens embrace growing up than it is a movie for grown-ups to laugh at the ignorance of youths facing the world.
One of the more frustrating observations I made as I watched this movie is that there never seems to be much resolution to the problems that Birdy faces as she grows up. The movie ends with her just as immature as she was at the start of the film. Having successfully avoided all opportunities for matrimony, she seems content to live her life in pursuit of entertainment and mischievous diversions from adult responsibilities. Can we really say that this is a coming-of-age film if the character never really develops?
That said there are still some valuable life lessons that Birdy learns following many of her mistakes throughout the film. When she speaks in anger or frustration, she learns the power that her words have on the hearts of those closest to her. When she speaks words in anger to her closest friends, Birdy realizes how she has damaged the relationship.
“Catherine Called Birdy” is definitely a movie that reflects a modern view of quasi-historical issues and culture. The danger lies in applying our cultural lens to interpret historical events. The daily lives of men and women in times gone by should not be used in an attempt to validate the men and women of today. While still a fun flick to watch with friends, perhaps this movie is best when it is not taken seriously.
“Catherine Called Birdy ” is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Kathryn McDonald is a senior Psychology major and writer for the Arts and Entertainment section of Cedars. You can probably catch her writing a letter to a friend in the library or drinking coffee from her favorite mug. When she is not at her desk studying, she is probably on her phone catching up with friends or reading her favorite volumes of American poetry.
Images courtesy of Prime Video