When you hear the phrase “PG-13 coming-of-age movie set in 1290s England,” who’s the first filmmaker that comes to mind? That’s right, Lena Dunham. While on tour promoting her new book Not That Kind Of Girl, the creator of Tiny Furniture, Girls, and countless online-media shitstorms teased a project she’s working on with her Girls executive producer Jenni Konner: an adaptation of Karen Cushman’s award-winning 1994 young-adult novel Catherine, Called Birdy. And while “1290s England” may not exactly seem like the ideal milieu for a filmmaker who’s more or less synonymous with modern-day Brooklyn, Catherine, Called Birdy actually fits into Dunham’s wheelhouse pretty nicely: It’s about the teenage daughter of an aristocrat who resists her betrothal, coming across as an ahead-of-her-time feminist. Or, to put it in Dunham’s words: “She gets her period and her father basically says, ‘Well, it’s time for you to get married,’ and she’s like ‘Uh, no’… But it’s hyper-realistic and really pretty and it’s full of incest and beatings, but it’s a child’s story.” Yeah, okay, that sounds more up Dunham’s alley.
The project is still in the very early development stages: Dunham joked she needs to find “someone who wants to fund a PG-13 medieval movie,” and says she’ll connect with Cushman soon to discuss the project in more detail. She’s planning to produce the film through her and Konner’s production company, A Casual Romance, and will presumably write (and possibly direct) the adaptation herself. Speaking at The New Yorker Festival last Friday, Dunham appeared cognizant that Catherine, Called Birdy seems like a departure for her:
“Nothing I’ve done so far has required research of any real kind of beyond, like, going to dinner… So this is a whole other world. But the source material makes me so happy… the idea of engaging with some of these topics that are important to me, which are—surprise—women and feminism, but finding a way to kind of look at them through a historical lens.”
Dunham and Konner currently have a lot of projects lined up through A Casual Romance—including a documentary about the illustrator of Eloise and an HBO series based on the life of pioneering Bergdorf Goodman personal shopper Betty Halbreich—so don’t expect Birdy any time in the near future. But if this project materializes, with the right funding and talent in place, it could be a really interesting new avenue for Dunham’s unique strand of creativity to take.