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Laramie Movie Scope:
Catherine Called Birdy

A funny, bawdy medieval romp

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 17, 2022 – This is a very funny medieval romp, set in 13th century Lincolnshire, England. It is a coming of age story about a 14-year-old girl, Birdy (played by Bella Ramsey). The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Karen Cushman. It streams on Prime Video.

Instead of doing lady-like things, Birdy likes mud fights in the village and hanging out with peasants, like young Perkin, the goat herder (played by Michael Woolfitt). Birdy's father, Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott of “Spectre”) finds out he is in serious financial trouble, and his only hope is to find a rich suitor to marry Birdy. In essence, he is considering selling his daughter. He doesn't like the idea, but it seems to be his only option.

Birdy doesn't have any options either, but she creates some major distractions by coming up with some inventive, and funny, ways to reject her suitors. She dresses up as a hag, and spreads false stories about her own unsuitability as a wife. She wears a variety of disguises and comes up with a whole series of fake personality quirks.

She finally meets her match with the wealthy, crude and eccentric Sir John Henry Murgaw VIII, whom she calls “shaggy beard.” Rather than being put off by Birdy's antics, he sees them as a challenge, and becomes determined to marry her. Birdy comes up with a scheme to postpone the wedding, but is unable to prevent it.

Meanwhile, Birdy is having other difficulties. Her best friend, Aelis (Isis Hainsworth of “Emma”) falls in love with her favorite uncle, the dashing crusader, George (Joe Alwyn of “The Favourite”). Birdy becomes jealous and shuns Aelis. Birdy's mother, Lady Aislinn (Billy Piper of the “Doctor Who” series) who has had a series of miscarriages, becomes pregnant again. Birdy is afraid of what will happen this time. This subplot climaxes in a harrowing medieval childbirth scene.

There are a number of plot twists in this comedy of manners as romances blossom, then suddenly vanish. There are marriages of convenience and many characters turn out to have unexpected personality traits. It all becomes a dizzying dance of comedy, and Birdy is in the middle of it all, reluctantly growing up and becoming a woman more concerned with the welfare of her family and friends.

One of the biggest surprises of the film is Ethelfritha Rose Splinter of Devon, a wealthy widow (played by Sophie Okonedo of “The Secret Life of Bees”) who, like Birdy, turns out to have a rebellious spirit. Unlike Birdy, she has a more practical approach to problems. She has a kind of life wisdom that helps Birdy overcome her relationship problems.

Birdy also has a close relationship with another woman, her maid, Morwenna (Lesley Sharp of “From Hell”) who gives her good advice, while patiently putting up with Birdy's pranks and childish notions. Birdy loves Morwenna, as well as her Mother and friends, Aelis and Perkin.

Birdy's father, Lord Rollo, is devoted to Lady Aislinn, but doesn't know what to make of Birdy. He punishes her repeatedly, but still, she is rebellious. He finally comes to see Birdy for who she really is when Birdy does something unexpectedly generous for her brother and Aelis.

This story seems to me to be like a cross between “Tom Jones” (1963) and the Jane Austen story, “Emma.” Comedy is hard, but writer-director Lena Dunham has the knack. The screenplay she wrote is very clever, with a lot of unexpected plot twists. The casting, by Catriona Dickie and Nina Gold is also unexpected, with more black people than I expected to see in 13th century rural England, but then, the story is a farce. The performances are solid and convincing. This is among the best comedies of 2022. It rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2022 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]