‘Catherine Called Birdy’ Alternate Poster by Lena Dunham’s Mom

Lena Dunham’s “Catherine Called Birdy” brings vibrancy and color to her adaptation of Karen Cushman’s beloved novel. Rich reds and blues fill the medieval world and fictional town of Stonebridge.

The film, nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and Critics Choice Award, stars Bella Ramsey as a 14-year-old who rebels against the patriarchy when her father, played by Andrew Scott, proclaims she is to be married off. When building the aesthetics, Dunham wanted to steer clear of the “grays and browns” associated with medieval history.

Speaking via Zoom from London, Dunham says, “This film is very much about the domestic life of women and children, and it was exciting to think about how we look at 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 end up making the cut.

An inspiration behind Dunham’s desire to populate the visuals with jewel tones stemmed from her love for art and growing up in her mother’s studio. Simmons wasn’t just an inspiration as an artist, she was also a collaborator. “So much of why I love moviemaking and art, and why being in my mom’s studio as a kid was such a special thing for me, was this idea that throughout adulthood, you can continue to have a sense of play and imagination and your interior life could take you on these very childlike adventures,” explains Dunham. “While I was on set, my mom was in very close touch with our unit photographer Alex Bailey. She was asking him to photograph the actors.”

Simmons requested the actors pose in a “paper-doll-like way” and while it didn’t make any sense at the time to Dunham, the cast and Bailey, Dunham knew that whatever her mother was up to would pay off. Simmons then created artwork based on Bailey’s photos.

Simmons, who would have been on set had it not been for the pandemic, explains, “I wanted to do something that married the idea of Lena discovering the book when she was young and bring it into the present, using as many actors as I possibly could in the art.” The string of paper dolls added a nostalgic feeling to the design. Says Dunham, “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 admits she wanted it to be the poster art, but since it was dark and complex, there was concern that potential audiences might not understand the idea behind it. “This is the movie poster in an alternate universe,” she says.

Laurie Simmons’ artwork, which came close to being the film’s movie poster.

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