Lena Dunham considers herself a historian of her personal technology. As the creator of the HBO collection “Girls,” she turned a defining millennial voice, even when her work was at all times a little tongue-in-cheek. But in her new movie, “Catherine Called Birdy,” she turns her consideration to precise historical past. It’s a area the place she feels snug. “I’m much more someone who’s going to stay at home and read an odd medieval diary by, you know, a milkmaid that was found in a pile of rubble than I am apt to go out to a party in Williamsburg,” Dunham stated in a current cellphone name.
An adaptation of Karen Cushman’s 1994 Newbery Medal-winning kids’s novel, “Birdy” is the story of a rebellious 14-year-old in medieval England (Bella Ramsey from “Game of Thrones”) whose father (Andrew Scott) desires to marry her off to maintain their household from slipping into poverty. Birdy does no matter she will to thwart that effort, all of the whereas beginning on a tenuous path to emotional maturity. Despite the interval setting, it’s materials that rings very true to Dunham. In reality, she considers “Birdy” the third half of a trilogy that began together with her breakout characteristic, the semi-autobiographical “Tiny Furniture” in 2010, and continued with “Sharp Stick,” a sexually specific saga about a 26-year-old virgin that was launched earlier this 12 months after debuting on the Sundance Film Festival.
“They are all about different moments in the coming-of-age story,” she stated. Though these works happen in numerous eras and settings, she added, “I hope that they all offer a sense of how complicated that moment is, especially for young women, and how both invigorating and terrifying it is and the way that it kind of cracks you open.”
Making “Birdy” has been a longtime objective for Dunham, 36, who first fell in love with the e-book as a little one. (She has six copies, she calculated.) She initially obtained the rights from the writer almost 10 years in the past. “‘Girls’ had just started and someone asked, ‘If you could adapt anything into a movie, what would your dream be?’ and I don’t think my reps at the time were hoping that I would say a medieval Y.A. story about a girl entering into forced marriage, but that is what I did,” she recalled.
The rights for the e-book, which is written within the type of a diary, had been optioned as soon as earlier than. Nothing had ever come to fruition, Cushman stated in an interview, so when Dunham despatched a letter about her love for the e-book, the writer rapidly stated sure.
Cushman, now 80, hadn’t but seen “Girls” — she doesn’t have cable — however had watched “Tiny Furniture,” which she discovered “so depressing.” The novelist defined, “I thought she was amazing at her young age to do what she had done, and I was hoping she had over the years cheered up a little after ‘Tiny Furniture.’” (Dunham finally despatched Cushman discs of “Girls.”)
Dunham lastly dug into writing her model of “Birdy” in 2019 after decamping to England to direct the pilot of HBO’s finance drama “Industry” and discovering inspiration in scouting journeys to medieval landmarks. She was about to shoot the mission in March 2020 when the pandemic shut down manufacturing. Feeling the urge to create after that disappointment, Dunham threw herself into writing the Los Angeles-set “Sharp Stick,” during which the sheltered heroine has an affair together with her married boss that sends her on a spiral of sexual exploration.
“‘Sharp Stick’ is my most complicated, maybe least commercial instincts and ‘Birdy’ is, hopefully in a positive way, trying to tell a populist story, but they are both asking the same questions,” she stated. Having “Sharp Stick” to discover her most provocative aspect, nevertheless, allowed Dunham to “pull back” in sure methods when it got here to her follow-up. A component of her, she stated, may need wished to dig deeper into the ugliness of medieval society in “Birdy” greater than she in the end did. Instead she was content material together with her protagonist’s extra harmless viewpoint.
Before making “Birdy,” Dunham met her now-husband, the British-Peruvian musician Luis Felber, and began spending extra time in Britain. Going into the mission, she was a self-described “embarrassing Anglophile” to the diploma that she wished a Brontë-themed bachelorette celebration. (“It did not end up happening,” she defined. “It’s much harder to have a bachelorette party on the moors than you would think.”)
Still, she was cautious to put aside some of her romanticism for the needs of the movie, which calmly touches on the horrors of British historical past just like the Crusades. Dunham labored alongside the medieval scholar Helen Castor to grasp the nuances of the interval whereas diverging from the historic file when she noticed match. An instance: The rating by Carter Burwell, sung by the group Roomful of Teeth, invokes choral music, whereas the soundtrack is crammed with Misty Miller’s covers of pop songs like Supergrass’s “Alright” and Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.”
Dunham’s model of the thirteenth century, which she crafted alongside the manufacturing designer Kave Quinn and costume designer Julian Day, is crammed with shade and flowers — “one step away from Coachella,” based on Dunham. The objective was costumes that had been each traditionally acceptable and enjoyable sufficient to seize the eyes of women searching for their subsequent Halloween costume.
That knack for understanding ascendant womanhood served Dunham properly when it got here to collaborating with Ramsey, the 18-year-old who performs Birdy. “I think she understands what it was to be a teenage girl who didn’t fit the mold of a teenage girl,” Ramsey stated of Dunham. “She knew what it was like to feel things deeply and not know how to express them.”
“Catherine Called Birdy” is definitely Dunham’s most family-friendly work and by extension her most accessible. Parents could be assured there aren’t any unprintable intercourse acts, though there are discussions of menstruation and farting. For Scott, the actor finest often called the hunky priest on “Fleabag,” who performs Birdy’s usually sloshed father, Rollo, it’s a approach for audiences to see a half of Dunham that will have been hidden in her extra boundary-pushing materials. “I love the fact that this film is so full of heart,” he stated. “I love the fact that that side of her is something that people can recognize now.”
Dunham is aware of “Birdy” will most likely nonetheless be in contrast with “Girls,” however she’s grateful it took about a decade to get made. Those years of life expertise meant she may flesh out the world across the spunky teen on the film’s middle, whether or not that be Birdy’s mom’s a number of stillbirths or the heartbreak endured by her finest good friend. “I feel lucky there’s a little bit of space so that hopefully this movie, which I care so much about and which feels in so many ways like the culmination thus far of my life’s work, will have a chance to stand on its own,” she stated. She simply desires viewers to fall in love with this story the identical approach she did all these years in the past.
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