It’s difficult to strike a lighthearted tone when the subject matter is “tyrannical feudal lord forcing his 13-year-old daughter into marriage with a much older man.” But by God, that’s just what Lena Dunham is doing with Catherine Called Birdy. Between the perhaps inappropriately cutesy title cards, the new trailer introduces a heroine who is clever, resilient, and very funny.
For example: at one point, Catherine (Bella Ramsey) fends off an unknowing suitor (Russell Brand) by describing the lady as a “vile creature” with a spare ear growing out of the back of her neck. “I am, thank the Lord, very cunning. Most girls are, though we’re not given due credit for it,” she narrates.
But even while Birdy approaches her predicament with refreshing humor, she’s clear eyed about the forbidding obstacles she and other girls face. “Would I choose to die rather than be forced to marry? I do not think either option is appealing. Or fair,” she laments. Later, having her Jo March moment, she boldly declares, “You don’t get to decide who we are, where we go, or how much we cost, like we’re just things. We’re not things, we’re people. And we can think, and we can hear, and we can feel!”
Ramsey feels like a slam dunk in the role, but the supporting cast has their spotlight moments as well. Like Birdy’s sleazy, domineering dad (Andrew Scott) reassuring guests that she only has a “small pox,” or her long-suffering mother (Billie Piper), who says “I cheer for you Birdy, but I fear for you.” Then there’s handsome Joe Alwyn, willing to conspire with Birdy behind her father’s back but possibly just as “duplicitous” as any man.
Written and directed by Dunham, the film also stars Lesley Sharp, Sophie Okonedo, Ralph Ineson, Isis Hainsworth, Dean-Charles Chapman and Paul Kaye. Catherine Called Birdy will make its world premiere at TIFF, opening in theaters September 23, 2022 and debuting on Prime Video on October 7, 2022.