How ‘Catherine Called Birdy’ Created A World As Colorful And Vibrant As Its Heroines

When it comes to recreating the distant past on screen, all we can really do is guess what things look like based on the remaining clues. Our medieval and medieval imaginations are based in large part on the wind-blown shells of castles and the arched stonework of cathedrals, which means that, whether you’re in King’s Landing or at the court of King Henry, the medieval world is often bad, brutal, and short on color. It is gray and black and sometimes burns with fire, as if no one had worked with the primary colors until Da Vinci.

But looking at a time period in this way is a bit like extrapolating an animal’s shape based only on its bones – you miss out on the things that give it shape, character, and life. Among the many advantages of “Catherine Called Birdy” is that Lena Dunham’s adaptation of Karen Cushman’s beloved novel builds a world as vibrant and colorful as the film’s hero.

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Production designer Kave Quinn didn’t need to look too far in order to build a copy of the fictional town of Stonebridge (in Lincoln County, in the Kingdom of England, in the hands of God—and filmed on the site of Stokesay Castle in Shropshire), turning to illustrated manuscripts from the late century thirteenth for examples of period color and beauty. “One of the things Lena really wanted to bring into the movie was this vibe,” Quinn told IndieWire. “It makes you connect more with people, and you don’t see them in a bleak environment…You get a real sense of what life was like.”

Our relationship with Byrdie (Bella Ramsey) begins immediately, as she is taken to her room for a second (!) shower inside a manor house ruled by her extravagant, playful father, Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott), and her wise, wise mother, Lady Aislyn (Billy Piper). The house really looks, almost every inch of it is painted in rich red and blue. It’s decorated with sculptural ornaments and ornate objects, whether it’s wooden birds or a gorgeous red woven bedspread, to give the space the feel of a human hand—and a Birdie’s hand in particular. “It was the realization of her imagination,” Quinn said.

“Catherine Cold Birdie” – Credit: Alex Bailey / Prime Video

Alex Bailey / Prime Video

The house also becomes a dimension of her imagination, as it appears forcefully in her desire to delay the time when a match might be made for her, and then to postpone any of her potential suitors for later. (Both phases of Byrdie’s plans include the mansion’s outer house, for example.) Even in simple spaces where a lord’s daughter shouldn’t go – but might occasionally find herself eavesdropping on conversations from the other side of the entrance – Quinn cared. Spread thatch across your regular floorboards so the house never feels tidy or bulky. It is constantly shaped by the people who live in it, whether that formation involves hanging garlands for Christmas processions or stripping furnishings to pay off house debts.

Quinn and her team traveled to India to research the many props that give the farmhouse its character, both for adhering to Rollo’s expensively mundane taste and because of the level of craftsmanship available in country furniture, soft goods, and things. Arrow. Much of what they bought there has undergone some kind of custom aging process while sitting, stuck in a container ship, during a pause in COVID-19 production. Taking advantage of these unexpected bumps in the road, the team gave groups and props a sense of the everyday wear and tear that can occur in a home where a teen enjoys the reins of freedom.

Catherine Cold Birdie – Credit: TIFF


A hamlet was built on Stokesay grounds for “Catherine Called Birdy,” which Quinn described as an accurate reflection of the closeness between the knight’s castles and the medieval towns built around them. But some real-world trials had to be sacrificed for the ultra-modern needs of filmmaking. “Originally, [the manor] “We could have had stained glass windows, but they were gone, so we had to put our own,” Quinn said. “There were terrible storms going through the building, so it was a challenge for the Dubai managers, and we really had to build some medieval scaffolding outside, which he used to light up when we were shooting the interiors.

“[That became] Part of the castle’s story, and because it’s in poor condition – had scaffolding half built outside of it. So we incorporated this design element into the castle so that [DP Laurie Rose] It can light up the great hall.”

The great hall has its fair share of bare stonework, but not for not trying to decorate it. In addition to stained glass, wall hangings and a false tile floor were brought from the Middle Ages. The raised table for Lord Rollo, his family, and guests is forever strewn with flowers and colored cloth, and piled with fruit and meat rigs in addition to roast pig. The overall score is a subtle tension between the mansion’s majestic walls and the warmth within, which reflects the film’s central tension, between Birdie’s desire for fun, freedom, and adventure and society’s expectations of it. Byrdie mirrors and feels a part of this place that she loves, which makes us love it too.

“When you do a project like this, you have to do the research, really get down to what things were, and then take it yourself,” Quinn said. “So I found this really exciting because Lena really wanted to push the boat out. And I think the color came out so beautifully in ‘Birdy’ and helped further the story. I just hope that a lot of the young girls watching the movie see something of their lives in that movie – but also connect Really with people from those days. It didn’t really change much.”

Amazon will release the movie in theaters on Friday, September 23, and it will air on Prime Video on Friday, October 7.

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