33 thoughts on “Catherine Called Birdy

  1. “Upper middle class”? Some of those fabrics and trims (the accurate and inaccurate both) seem way too luxurious and tricky to make for the time for merely upper middle class.

    1. What middle class there was lived in towns and were Master Craftsmen. I assume Birdie’s family is minor gentry, and herhaps struggling to maintain that position. Or alternatively, and more interestingly, they’re jumped up yeoman like the early Pastons determined to be accepted as gentry.

  2. I’m excited! I loved the book (fueled my fascination for all things vaguely “medieval-ish” or Renaissance). When it was first previewed earlier this year I mentioned it was nice seeing hair up. I got dragged for not recognizing Jacobean interiors. Still not sure how those are related. Either way, thanks for the overview! It’s added to my list.

  3. I’m glad it’s not a complete train wreck hair and costume wise. Still avoiding the movie as I love the book too much, found the trailer off putting, and I don’t trust Lena Dunham.

    1. Looks like fun, although I don’t trust Dunham either, and Andrew Scott is sporting the least medieval hair ever–worse than a mullet, even worse than the future Henry VIII in whatever that Philippa Fucking Gregory Starz spawn was. Some of the surcoats are pretty good, though. I enjoy 13th-century dress because if you just added jeans and running shoes, it would look like the present-day west coast.

  4. I’m on the fence about the movie. I wasn’t impressed with the trailer and I LOVED THE BOOK. I might stream it if I’m sick or wait for the DVD. it is not going, in if you watch Jill Bearup, in the JUST STAB ME NOW category.

  5. Ten minutes in, perky little Birdy complains about having to learn how to spin on a drop spindle, thus letting us know that she’s too cool to bother learning “girl stuff.” Never mind that spindle spinning involves math and engineering, not to mention spindles are heavy and make a dandy weapon in a pinch. That’s where they lost me. I turned it off.

    1. Girls are allowed to not want to do traditional female arts, and they are allowed to feel it unfair that they’re expected to do it just because of their gender.
      I keep seeing this complaint about young female characters (especially when they’re GNC girls) who don’t enjoy embroidery, sewing, weaving etc etc.

      Girls, even fictional girls, are allowed to dislike activities. Especially activities they did not choose for themselves.

      -Someone who loves sewing and embroidery

      1. Birdie can certainly dislike textile work but she should do it and do it well because it wasn’t a casual passtime but a vital economic activity. And she certainly wouldn’t be learning it this late.

        1. That’s what occurs to me: there’s no way a fourteen-year-old would be only now learning to use a spindle. Any eight-year-old would have already been enlisted to work, like it or no.

        2. She’s higher status so it’s not vital work for her (her adult role would be lady of the manor, running the house & managing servants; she wouldn’t be a sheep herder’s wife). Spinning is a useful & expected activity for her, yes. But it’s not essential & for her, it would be more of an appropriate feminine pastime.

          Watching the scene, I got the impression this was yet another failed attempt at teaching her traditional female activities that she did not want to learn — again, that’s the point in the story.

          1. But she’d have to know how to spin, weave and the rest because she’d be expected to supervise the household women and teach the skills to young servants and her own daughters. I’m very much afraid a refusal to learn proper ladylike accomplishments would result in a beating in those days.

            1. And she doesn’t want to do any of that — that’s the whole point. This character does not want to do the expected female tasks. Also, it’s established in the movie that her mother is indulgent, & her father is wishy-washy in how he treats her. The father does smack her around & try to lock her up when she acts out against the idea of an arranged marriage. But he also rescues her from marriage in the end. It’s a fictional story, after all, it’s not a historical documentary.

              1. Obviously. I know I can be annoying about historical accuracy.
                The sad thing is a girl like Birdie would have no alternative to the traditional female role.

    2. It’s silly to suggest a 13th-c. girl would get that kind of introduction to learning to use a drop spindle — she’d be taught to use it spin wool into yarn, because that’s a practical task for women of the period to work at & contribute to their homes. Obviously, the point of the scene was to show that Birdy doesn’t want to do what women of her time, place, & station are supposed to do. Adding your modern reasons to enjoy it wouldn’t make sense. (FWIW, I hated trying drop spindle too. It was annoying as hell, & I say this as someone who’s been sewing since before age 10.)

  6. I dunno. I really DIDN’T like the movie, in particular the changes to the story. But putting that aside — I still have two issues. One is with your source above that says that young girls “wore their hair loose and uncovered.” I’m sorry, have you EVER tried to comb the long hair of a 5 year old who has been playing outside all day? I realize that it’s a movie trope that these characters can have their long hair floating free all day long without consequences, but real life ain’t like that for most of us. I have waist length (formerly hip length) straight hair, and believe me, it is loose and flowing almost never. I learned to braid my own hair starting about 7 years old so that my mother would not have to comb it out.

    My other problem is that in the 12th century — before spinning wheels — spinning is not really a hobby or even a vocation — it’s a basic life skill. It’s like saying that you don’t like shopping and cooking because they’re coded female. Sure, some people are better at it, make a career of it, etc., and other people never really get good at it (which IIRC was how it was in the book) but it’s not an optional activity for most women and I suspect not a few men. I worked as a docent on a living history farm, and the one thing that was absolutely BURNED into my brain is HOW MUCH TIME it takes to turn sheep into clothing. Everybody has to participate all the time if anybody’s gonna have clothes. Children can learn to spin starting between 5 and 7 years old, and probably have an easier time of it than us adults.

    (And although I can spin on a supported (Navajo or Pueblo) spindle, I have never mastered the drop spindle, it’s a bear.)

    1. What y’all seem to be forgetting is that Birdy wasn’t a farm worker’s daughter — she’s the daughter of titled landowners. Spinning wool would not be an essential activity for her. It’s an appropriate feminine activity, yes. But not essential to her expected adult life.

      1. I guess to me it depends, some, on just how well off her parents are, and where they are. Some landowners were pretty poor. But yes, Birdy is very unlikely to become a professional spinster in any case! But on the other hand, it’s a basic skill, sort of like how we think about reading or math or even using a dishwasher. Even if your adult life doesn’t require it, or doesn’t require it on a professional level, you’re expected to know how to do it. If her family is indeed wealthy enough to enable her to avoid this basic skill, then she would have servants etc., and need to know how to do it well enough to teach and supervise others. Mainly, I guess, I wanted to point out that spinning (and the related crafts) are essential in that world, much much more common and necessary than we usually quite realize.

        1. If the film had showed her sewing, the argument would fit better that ‘this is a basic life skill’ bec. yes, women at all levels of society knew how to sew to some degree & tended to do so on a regular basis throughout their lives, whether it was for maintenance, profit, or to pass the time. Sewing would be equivalent to how we think of reading, math, or using a dishwasher. But spinning wool is a secondary skill that’s essential to some but not all, like today doing math w/out a calculator, you could say.

          1. Lily Rose is correct here, because this movie is set just before the (hand-turned) spinning wheel became universal in Europe – it had definitely arrived in France by 1280, but it would still take decades to become widespread in interconnected places like Lincolnshire.

            All girls had to learn how to spin to be able to determine whether spinning was done well, right up to (future) queens. Legends about Queen Bertha of Swabia, the spinnig queen, were enthousiastically repeated all over Europe. Even for the highest levels of the aristocracy, there was thus considerable pressure to spin.

            Birdy’s family is much lower ranked and poorer – they simply would not be able to afford a daughter who did not spin. Even more so, because they are connected to the wool trade in the books. Before the spinning wheel, a basic wardrobe for a family of 5 or 6 would cost two thousand hours of spinning. (Calculations can be found on Unmitigated Pedantry blog)

            In short, refusing to learn to spin should be treated like refusing to learn to read in a modern setting – i.e. a ridiculous and unacceptable tantrum. Of course, having children tantrum is realistic, but the adult response is not realistic. It should go something like “you enjoy sleeping under a blanket in winter, don’t you? then you like spinning and must do your share of the work”.

            1. Oooh, SmallCatharine, thank you for the pointer to Unmitigated Pedantry! That looks like a fabulous resource!!!

  7. 13th century dress was shapeless, as you can see from the contemporary images but brightly colored and layered for contrast. A young girl would braid her hair for convenience not just let it flow. If Birdie is old enough to be married she’d probably be wearing a fillet and barb to signal the fact. Marrying their daughter well would be a major preoccupation of her parents.

  8. As a millennial who somehow missed the book in my historical fiction canon growing up and hasn’t cared for any of Dunham’s other work… I really enjoyed this. Sure, the boho chic choices were somewhat distracting, but I found the performances of everyone involved to be engaging and quite touching too. Oops?

  9. I adored this book when I was a kid (had a total crush on Uncle George, too!) but I think I’m going to pass on this adaptation. It looks way too 1970s for me.

  10. Oh boy, this movie was a mess. Anyone expecting anything remotely resembling the book will be sorely disappointed. Which sucks because there’s a lot of things that don’t make sense in the movie because they’re properly explained and/or part of a discarded plot from the book. Like the spinning thing. In the book Birdy doesn’t LIKE to spin, but does know HOW to spin.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the anachronistic period bloomers. (Or whatever they called them in the movie.)

  11. Ok, but can I at least give the film props for EVERYONE WEARING CHEMISES LIKE THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO?? Like, all the other critiques are valid, but OMG it’s so nice to see all of the chemises with Catherine’s costumes!

    1. You know, I think I may have subconsciously accepted the costumes as “pretty good for a movie” ENTIRELY because of the chemises. And it’s true, they wear chemises — and nobody tried to retrofit corsets into the story (or the period)!

  12. I haven’t read the book, nor seen the film (and probably won’t).

    I just wish we could have a film/TV series which shows a female protagonist showing the “female centric” skill set as a matter of course AND still being independent of mind (within the time frame).

    There are SO MANY women through time who were doing things “outside of” what they were supposedly expected to do/be but ALSO would have done the things that were actually life skills – regardless of status.

    I agree with Trystan that Catherine’s status (daughter of a Lord) is unlikely to have been learning how to spin on a drop spindle. She would have been learning how to do basic sewing and moving on to advanced sewing.

    Later than the 13th century, we have Princess Elizabeth (later QEI) sewing her little baby brother’s shirts when she is around 4 years old. And yet, that young girl, as she grows, has a razor sharp mind, does archery, dancing till everyone else drops, riding, is a strategist, thinker, orator etc etc.

    Just be nice to have a female being strong, amazing, an inspiration without taking her so far out of what she would have experienced in the time setting she would be in.

    Anyhoo… Love Sarah’s comments by the photos. Just brilliant.

    Love the 1970s boho look of Catherine and her mum – they look like time travellers!

    1. The ritual of ‘pricking the rolls’ where the monarch pricks the names of appointees on a parchment with a bodkin is supposed to date back to Elizabeth I. According to legend she was sewing in the garden one day when the roll was brought her and not having pen and ink handy used her sewing bodkin to mark the chosen names.

Comments are closed.

Discover more from Frock Flicks

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading