Lena Dunham’s “Katherine Called Birdy” brings vibrancy and color to her adaptation of Karen Cushman’s beloved novel. Fills the medieval world and fictional town of Stonebridge with rich reds and blues.
Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and a Critics’ Choice Award, the film stars Bella Ramsey as a 14-year-old who rebels against the patriarchy when her father, played by Andrew Scott, announces that she is getting married. When creating the aesthetic, Dunham wanted to stay away from the “gray and brown” associated with medieval history.
Speaking via Zoom from London, Dunham said, “This film is very much about the domestic life of women and children, and it’s exciting to think about how we see medieval life in a more feminine way.”
The film’s poster reflects everything about Dunham’s vision, but her mother, artist Laurie Simmons, designed her own artwork for the movie that didn’t make the final cut.
An inspiration behind Dunham’s desire to create visuals with jewel tones was her love of art and growing up in her mother’s studio. Simmons was not only an inspiration as an artist, but also a collaborator. “Why I love filmmaking and art, and why being in my mother’s studio was such a special thing for me, was the idea that throughout youth, you can maintain play and imagination and a sense of your inner self. Life can take you on adventures like these kids,” Dunham explains. “When I was on set, my mother was in very close contact with our unit photographer, Alex Bailey. He was asking him to photograph the actors.
Simmons asked the actors to do a “paper-doll-like” pose, and while it didn’t make sense to Dunham, the cast and Bailey, Dunham knew her mother would pay for whatever she wanted to do. Simmons then created artwork based on Bailey’s photos.
Simmons, who would have been on set if not for Pandemic, explained, “I wanted to do something that Lena discovered the book when she was young and marry the idea of bringing it into the present, using a lot of actors like me. Maybe art could.” The string of paper dolls added a nostalgic feel to the design. Dunham says, “I loved that she was able to take the paper dolls and bring them into the great hall. [of the castle]”
When she saw the artwork, Dunham admitted that she wanted it in poster art, but because it was dark and complex, there was concern that potential audiences might not understand the concept behind it. “It’s an alternate universe movie poster,” she says.