Orlando (Swinton) is an Elizabethan nobleman living a privileged life when Queen Elizabeth I (Crisp) commands him to stay forever young, which he does. This film follows Orlando from 1600 to the present day when he searches for truth, beauty and love. This book is based on the Virgina Woolf book of the same name the story is also updated to reflect modern life.
He falls in love and is betrayed, he falls into a seven day sleep and awakens anew and travels to the Middle East as the UK ambassador where he discards the pomp and pageantry of the British courts. It is when he is here he witnesses a battle and he becomes disgusted with men and so falls into a deep sleep again and this time awakens a woman.
When she returns to England, essentially the same person but now a woman it is here that Orlando realises the restrictions, limitations and constraints on women in the 1750's. Through Orlando the audience sees the gradual changes in the perceptions and rights of women right up until the present day.
The film is told in chapters and always with an ironic sense of fun and humour. Orlando moves through the chapters and through the ages, learning, loving and finally becoming whole. In some ways he / she seems like a witness to their own destiny rather than a real participant. In fact it is only when she meets Shelmerdine (Zane) that you have the feeling that she then begins to live properly.
It's a beautiful film, the costumes are amazing, the sets are almost too beautiful – from the ice covered Thames to Orlando's house which even under dust sheets it looks a magical place. I began to wish I had seen this in the cinema as the visuals would have been so powerful and stunning. Swinton is amazing and mesmerising as Orlando, it is impossible to think of another actor who could have played the androgynous dreamlike character.
It is also an unfamiliar experience to see the changes in the perceptions of women over centuries through one character, and as a female it made me glad I live in an age when there are so few constraints in real terms. It is only in this age also that Orlando has found peace and happiness with herself.
This film won't be popular with everyone, even the concept of a character changing sex part way through the film will be enough to put some people off. I though am glad I have seen it, the haunting visuals and the humour and subtle strength of Orlando's character made the film for me well worth it.
Director: Sally Potter
Tilda Swinton – Orlando
Billy Zane – Shelmerdine
Charlotte Valandrey – Princess Sasha
Lothaire Bluteau – The Khan
Quentin Crisp – Queen Elizabeth I
Read more at: Nerve Curve