Orlando (film)

Orlando (film)

Promotional poster
Directed by Sally Potter
Produced by Christopher Sheppard
Written by Sally Potter
Virginia Woolf (novel Orlando: A Biography)
Starring Tilda Swinton
Billy Zane
Lothaire Bluteau
John Wood
Charlotte Valandrey
Music by David Motion
Sally Potter
Cinematography Aleksei Rodionov
Editing by Hervé Schneid
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release date(s) 1992 (1992)
Running time 93 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $4 million[1] or
$5 million

Orlando is a 1992 film[2] based on Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando: A Biography, starring Tilda Swinton as Orlando, Billy Zane as Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, and Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth. It was directed by Sally Potter.[3]

It was particularly acclaimed for its visual treatment of the settings of Woolf's 1928 novel. Potter chose to film much of the Constantinople portion of the book in the isolated city of Khiva in Uzbekistan, and made use of the forest of carved columns in the city's 18th century Djuma Mosque.

Orlando was nominated for Academy Awards for art direction (Ben Van Os, Jan Roelfs) and costume design.[4] The film was also nominated for the 1994 Independent Spirit Awards' Best Foreign Film award.[5]

Orlando was rereleased by Sony Pictures Classics in select theaters starting August 6, 2010.[6]


Plot summary

The film begins in the Elizabethan Age shortly before the death of Queen Elizabeth I. On her deathbed, Elizabeth gives an androgynous young nobleman named Orlando a large tract of land and a castle built on it along with a generous monetary gift which she will only give to him if he agrees to her command, "Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old." Both he and his heirs will keep the land and inheritance forever. Orlando makes the promise and after her death lives in the castle for many centuries during which he pursues interests in poetry and art, although his attempts to befriend a celebrated poet backfire when the poet writes a devastating takedown of his poetry. Orlando then travels to Constantinople as British ambassador to the Turks, but is almost killed in a diplomatic fracas. Waking up the next morning, however, he learns something even more startling: he has turned into a woman overnight.

The now 'Lady' Orlando comes home to her estate in Middle Eastern garb, only to learn that she faces several impending lawsuits arguing that Orlando was a woman to begin with and therefore has no right to the land or any of her/his royal inheritance.

The succeeding centuries tire her; the court case, bad luck in love and the wars of British history eventually bring her up to the 1990s with a child and having written a book. Having lived a most bizarre existence, Orlando finds a tranquil niche within it.

Differences from novel

My task with the adaptation of Virginia Woolf's book for the screen was to find a way of remaining true to the spirit of the book and to Virginia Woolf's intentions, whilst being ruthless with changing the book in any way necessary to make it work cinematically. [...] The most immediate changes were structural. The storyline was simplified - any events which did not significantly further Orlando's story were dropped.

—director Sally Potter about the changes from the book, press kit[1]

Potter argued that the more pragmatic medium of cinema called for reasons - however flimsy - to drive the narrative, over the novel's abstraction and arbitrariness, especially as the story itself is based on a kind of suspension of disbelief. Thus it is Queen Elizabeth who bestows the long life upon Orlando. The change of sex is a result of Orlando reaching a crisis of masculine identity when he is unwilling to conform to what is expected of him as a man. Nor as a woman can Orlando conform. Unlike the novel, it leaves her without marriage or property, and with a daughter, not a son.

Orlando's words and looks to the camera [were] intended as an equivalent both of Virginia Woolf’s direct addresses to her readers and to try to convert Virginia Woolf's literary wit into cinematic humor

—director Sally Potter about Orlando's breaking the fourth wall, press kit[1]

Also the film ends in its "present day" in order to remain true to Virginia Woolf's use of real-time at the end of the novel.

Selected cast



Portions of poetry occur in the film:[7]


When first pitching her treatment in 1984, Potter was told the film was "unmakable, impossible, far too expensive and anyway not interesting", but in 1988 began writing the script and raise money.[1]


Potter saw Tilda Swinton in the Manfred Karge play Man to Man and said that there was a "profound subtlety about the way she took on male body language and handled maleness and femaleness". Quentin Crisp, in Potter's words, was the "Queen of Queens" and thus a logical choice to play the role of the old and frail Queen Elizabeth. "Particularly in the context of Virginia Woolf’s 'gender-bending' politics."



  1. ^ a b c d "Press kit", sonyclassics.com. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  2. ^ Young, R. G., ed (2000). The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film: Ali Baba to Zombies. New York: Applause. p. 468. ISBN 1557832692. 
  3. ^ Glaessner, Verina (1998). "Potter, Sally". In Unterburger, Amy L.. Women Filmmakers & Their Films. Detroit, MI: St. James Press. pp. 336–337. ISBN 1558623574. 
  4. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/66th-winners.html. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  5. ^ Connors, Martin; Craddock, Jim, eds (1999). "Orlando". VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 1999. Detroit: Visible Ink Press. p. 669. ISBN 1-57859-041-8. ISSN 1095-371X. 
  6. ^ Sony Pictures Classics
  7. ^ "Sally Potter encorporated some choice excerpts of English poetry into her screenplay.", retrieved 12 September 2011.

External links

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