TIFF 2022 REVIEW: Lena Dunham Rediscovers her Voice in ‘Catherine Called Birdy’ (2022)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“Catherine Called Birdy catches the filmmaker at her most confident yet”

Lena Dunham has nothing to prove— before she turned thirty she helmed a critically adored indie feature, tell-all book, and one of HBO’s most beloved series. By that definition she had already made her name as one of the strongest voices of  the millennial generation and has never released a piece of work that wasn’t as sharp as a nail. In 2017 as the near-perfect series ‘Girls’ was ending its sixth and final season, Dunham took a much needed break from the spotlight. She was receiving backlash for some off-kilter sections of her book Not That Kind of Girl, as well as some slightly tone deaf public remarks. Her missteps, however, pale in comparison to anything her male counterparts are guilty of— but the internet doesn’t let women off the hook that easily. 

After nearly five years of quiet, minus some behind-the-scenes producing and a small role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Dunham comes out guns-a-blazing in 2022 with two new feature films written and directed by her. The first released Sharp Stick, details a young women’s sexual journey as she has an affair with an older man. The second release is Catherine Called Birdy, a film that premiered this year at the Toronto International Film Festival and Flip Screen was lucky enough to have a seat in its audience. Catherine Called Birdy is set in medieval England and follows the story of Catherine (Bella Ramsey), a bright girl who we meet as she’s blossoming into young womanhood. She narrates the story and introduces us to all the supporting characters that consist of; her loving and pregnant mother Lady Aislinn (Billie Piper), house nurse and confidant Morwenna (Lesley Sharp), and pompous and imperious father Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott). 

Image Courtesy of TIFF

Also known as Birdy, Catherine has just gotten her first period, a dreaded time in any girl’s life but especially during  medieval times, as it now won’t be long until she is forced into bearing children. She tries to hide this news from her father, but being his only daughter of four children, he is keeping a close eye on her maturity. He lusts for riches and ornate social connections, but his family is going poor; the only way to climb the ladder is through whatever wealthy man his daughter weds. News of the eligible bachelorette spreads across town and suitors begin to arrive to see if they can woo Lady Catherine, but she couldn’t be less interested in meeting any man with those intentions. Her life revolves around her youth; playing with pet birds, crochet projects, killing fleas and waiting for her dreamy Uncle George (Joe Alwyn) to visit. Birdy has the gallant to try and defy her father’s wishes and assert her little autonomy by sabotaging any potential matches coming her way. She dreams of the type of independence all the men in her life seem to have, but is confined to the norms her society and family have impressed upon her.

Image Courtesy of TIFF

This kind of story is one that has been on screen many times before, and is particularly reminiscent of the early aughts’ rom com era, but the chaotic and modernized take on such a timeworn story makes it stand out. Writer and director Dunham is no stranger to the coming-of-age narrative construct, but her approach to Catherine Called Birdy catches the filmmaker at her most confident yet. Her past work such as Tiny Furniture and Girls, though impressive, reek with a young woman’s insecurity and uncertainty in the vision. Dunham’s writing has always been her strongest muscle, but directing wasn’t always a natural fit until she found her footing with this project. Bella Ramsey gives a memorable and lovable portrayal of Birdy, nailing the witty and gritty persona of a young defiant woman who must fight for her sovereignty. The charming Andrew Scott continues to make the audience enjoy even the most haughty of characters. While the film may not break any real new ground, all the components for a delightful and endearing watch are in place. Dunham successfully balances a world so playful and so earnest that audiences of any age can enjoy it and carries legitimate themes of women’s liberty that aptly connect the dots between the Middle Ages and today. 

Dir: Lena Dunham

Prod: Jo Wallett, Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan

Cast: Bella Ramsey, Andrew Scott, Joe Alwyn

Release Date: September 23 2022

Available on: Prime Video on Oct 7 2022

Trailer: Catherine Called Birdy – Official Trailer | Prime Video