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Amazon Studios has a new movie based on the Newbery Honor classic, so families may be tempted to put it on hold when it premieres on Prime Video next week.
But arts and media editor Colin Garbarino cautions that this is certainly a case where the book is better than the film.
Colin Garbarino: Catherine is called Birdie In select theaters now, it will debut on Prime Video on October 7. The film is adapted from Karen Cushman’s 1994 book Newbery Honor set in medieval England. But in the opening scenes, the director conveys this medieval story with a contemporary twist.
The movie is about a 14-year-old girl named Catherine who calls her Birdie. She is the daughter of a young nobleman in medieval England. She is stubborn, and finds it difficult to bear the expectations placed on Nabil’s daughter.
Morwena: House raises are not for young ladies.
BYRDIE: Morena, you released the pigs, and I’m not ashamed. They are only headed to slaughter, and I will not allow other animals to live a captive life like mine.
Morwena: You are the most well-fed prisoners I know.
BYRDIE: Anyway, I have a more pressing question.
Birdie prefers to run with the children of the village. She does not count her privileged position to be an honor, and she is unfit to learn the endeavors of an English lady.
BYRDIE: The fourteenth day of August. I got tangled up in yarn again. What a torment. I’d rather feed on a filthy dragon than try to spin like a lady.
Morwena: Oh, come on. as I showed you. number.
BYRDIE: I, thank the Lord, are very cunning. Most of the girls, though, are not given credit for that. But I have a great update. I made a deal with my mother. I will give up spinning, which is my greatest excitement of all, as long as I write this account of my days for my brother, Edward the Monk.
The original children’s novel takes the form of Byrdie magazine entries, and the film makes reference to this by having Byrdie narrate events as she scribbles in her book.
BYRDIE: So what follows is going to be my book. Catherine’s book called Little Bird or Birdie.
The film’s conflict stems from Birdie’s desire for freedom and her disgust with the idea of marriage. Her profligate father hadn’t thought of Birdie much up until this point, but now that she was nearing marriageable age, he saw an opportunity.
Servant: If, sir, you can secure a profitable union for your only daughter…
Sir Rollo: A profitable union?
Servant: There is a chance to get rid of this accumulated debt.
Sir Rollo: For Byrdie?
Sir Rollo: With a man?
Karen Cushman’s novel entertains children as they teach life in medieval England. The movie based on this book does none of these things.
Let’s start with the educational aspect of the book. Cushman says in her author’s note that the medieval world is very different from ours. It varies in the way they live, the way they think, and what they value. Cushman researched history, trying to accurately reflect the realities of medieval village life – although Byrdie herself was exceptional.
Amazon Studios’ version of the story, telling us almost nothing about medieval England, instead goes out of its way to fit Cushman’s story with contemporary piety. It’s not just a popular audio track. The cast consists of white, black, and Asian actors. The gay figure is dumped for good measure. There is no attempt to avoid anachronisms – in fact, the film stands out in them. There is no reverence for the Church, the institution that dominated medieval life. In the movie, when Birdie visits her brother at the monastery, she is overwhelmed by the young monks.
BYRDIE: We are so poor that we no longer serve pancakes to the monks. I simply bring myself. I always imagined that Edward lived among the god-fearing old people and the rotting old man clutching their Bibles to their chest.
[song: “Honey to the Bee”]
BYRDIE: Wait! Are these monks? Why didn’t anyone tell me?
I was not surprised by these changes in the book. Lena Dunham directed the film and wrote the script. She is best known for creating HBO’s comedy-drama girls. Dunham’s other work is feminist, depraved, and tasteless. Despite being based on a children’s novel, Catherine is called Birdie PG-13 is rated for some suggestive and thematic items. A surprising number of minutes in the film are devoted to tasteless discussions about the menstrual cycle. Dunham replaces societal piety with an empty, self-centered modern philosophy.
Edward: He promised me that you would read. Read, read, read more. And type. Knowing your story will be your salvation.
The end of the story gets a complete rewrite. In the book, Birdie eventually comes to terms with her role in her family and community. In the film, after 90 minutes of selfish behavior, Birdie gains the freedom to become the only individualist in England.
Catherine is called Birdie Not a movie for young girls who enjoyed the book. No, I can’t help but feel that this is a movie for adult women who feel liberated when they plan on independence, licensing, and sophistication for the sake of maturity.
I’m Colin Garbarino.
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