Watch: Andrew Scott and Joe Alwyn talk to Yahoo about Catherine Called Birdy
“She’s seen as a real feminist,” Scott told Yahoo. “I think, sometimes, what we don’t pay attention to is how much of a humanist Lena is.”
Her film, an adaptation of Karen Cushman’s children’s novel which streams on Prime Video from 7 October, sees Bella Ramsey play Lady Catherine aka Birdy, a 1290s teen fending off a fleet of suitors sent her way by her father Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott).
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Having wasted his fortune on silly trifles — he ordered a tiger; it was dead on arrival — Rollo believes the only way to now save his family is to sell Birdy off to a wealthy man as his bride.
“We think of marriage now, of course, as this romantic arrangement,” Scott said. “But up until relatively recently, it was a financial and business arrangement where you would set up your children in as best a way possible financially.
"So, that sort of idea of arranging a marriage for your daughter isn’t particularly unusual. But the kind of people that he sets up to marry Birdy is maybe a little bit dodgy.”
Is Rollo simply caving into societal expectations or has he truly betrayed his daughter’s love? That’s one of the many questions at the heart of Dunham’s irreverent take on Medieval history, and typical of the way she writes about men in her work.
Her HBO series, Girls, helped launch the careers of several actors, including Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky, and Christopher Abbott. Much of it had to do with the way she depicted their characters as much more than dreamy romantic interests for her main quartet (played by Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet), but as vulnerable, at times spiteful, individuals in constant battle with their own patriarchal privilege.
“She's really, really interested in the male characters as well,” Scott said. “And not just making them these terrible, you know, one-note kind of characters, because that wouldn't be very interesting for anybody to play or for anybody to watch.”
“In the book, [Rollo]’s a little bit more brutish,” the actor continued. “And we talked a lot about how he might be suffering under this very strange regime, the kind of machismo of the time, himself.
"Because he's interested in all the finer things in life and the finery and beautiful art and beautiful clothes. He spent all their cash basically on… on tigers. So I find that very interesting that he's not like a big sort of typical, you know, macho man.”
Read more: How Andrew Scott ruined his takes on 1917
Dunham takes a similar approach to Birdy’s uncle George, played by Alwyn, who she idolises as someone who fought in the Crusades and who still has all his teeth (such a rarity at the time!). But reality starts to slowly chip away at this romanticised image, and Birdy must face up to the fact that George is not quite the saviour she’s built up in her head.
“I think the idea was that before he went away, he was very much this gleaming, robust, princely character in her life and probably in the Crusades,” Alwyn says.
“There were a few bits that I think were in the original script, that you were going to see him over there and some flashbacks and stuff.”
“And the idea was,” Alwyn continued. “He was changed at war and then coming back, he returns this more broken version. But in her eyes, of course, he's still this gleaming thing. And he has to kind of let her down and say, I'm not.”
Catherine Called Birdy will stream on Prime Video from 7 October. Watch a trailer below.