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Orlando [DVD] [1993]

3.9 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Actors: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville, John Bott
  • Directors: Sally Potter
  • Writers: Sally Potter, Virginia Woolf
  • Producers: Christopher Sheppard, Jean Gontier, Laurie Borg, Luigi Musini, Lynn Hanke
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English, French
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Classification: PG
  • Studio: Artificial Eye
  • DVD Release Date: 26 May 2003
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000094P1I
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 33,544 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Product Description

A critical film in the history of British Cinema, Sally Potter's adaptation of Virginia Woolf's witty modernist novel took eight years to make it to the screen and is a meticulously crafted commentary on all things English as well as being a wonderfully romantic tale. Tilda Swinton stars as the eponymous hero who lives for 500 years and changes sex halfway. Granted a favour of immortality from Quentin Crisp's archetypal Queen Elizabeth I, Orlando proceeds to spend the next few centuries in search of love, life and adventure.


Breathtaking and practically non-discursive, Sally Potter's audacious Orlando overcomes some dodgy performances and a narrative structure that could most generously be described as "loose" to emerge as a haunting, discussion-provoking, trans-historical and transsexual drama. Commanded never to age by Queen Elizabeth (played with surprisingly little campness by legendary cross-dresser Quentin Crisp), the title character becomes immortal; we then follow Orlando through 400 years of dream-like British history. Midway through the film, Orlando changes genders--to Potter's immense credit, the transformation is handled with little fanfare and no explanation. Tilda Swinton, in the lead role, is far more convincing as a woman than as a man and, even during the film's latter half, her impassivity and lack of expression can be annoying. Potter encourages Swinton to play to the camera and the resulting asides and glances askance can be amusing but often seem purposeless, or even arch. Nevertheless, the wilful idiosyncrasy and understatement of the film never quite capsize the project and, once you give yourself over to the filmmaker's logic, the panoramic sweep of the cinematography (remarkable sets include an aristocratic skating party on the frozen Thames during the Great London Frost of 1603, a stunning tent-caravan in Central Asia, and countless fastidious boudoirs and interiors) will surely keep you enraptured. Orlando is no Merchant-Ivory production, no prissy, forgettable period piece; this film has teeth and it may bite ferociously when you least expect it to. Although based on the Virginia Woolf modernist classic of the same name, it scarcely resembles the original. --Miles Bethany --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
No lover in the world ever wrote a valentine more exquisite than Virginia Woolf's tribute to her lover Vita Sackville-West, "Orlando."

And few movie adaptations are as coyly, exquisitely lovely as the 1992 movie adapted from that book, a magical-realism tale about a perpetually youthful, charming hero/ine who traverses three centuries and both genders. Tilda Swinton has the right combination of androgyny and intelligence to perfectly embody Orlando, and director Sally Potter gilds and perfumes every set and costume.

Orlando (Swinton) was born a young aristocratic man in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and when the dying monarch visited his home she became his new court favorite. She also bid him, "Do not fade, do not wither, do not grow old."

And Orlando did as she said. With the death of the queen and his father, Orlando's passionate, curious personality attracted many women -- and during the Great Freeze he fell in love with Sasha, a mercurial Russian princess (Charlotte Valandrey) who enthralled him, but left him as he ice began to thaw. Bereft of true love, he devoted himself to poetry and entertainment.

But then he's assigned to be an ambassador to Constantinople, and something strange happens -- while a bloody revolution rages, he sleeps for a full week... and wakes newly metamorphosed into a woman. With the same mind and soul but a female body, Orlando sets out on a new life of poetry (befriending Pope!), sex and legality, stretching all the way to the twentieth century -- when she finally finds peace.

"Orlando" is a treat for the senses, filled with showers of gold dust, luxuriant flowers, pale sunlight, golden sands, cities veiled in ice, dark rivers, snowy forests and mist-filled hedge mazes.
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I first saw this film when it was released in the early 1990s and I only bought the DVD after recently reading Virginia Woolf's book on which the film is based.

Tilda Swinton excels as Orlando, and Potter's film will give you so much to talk about. One thing I picked up on from re-visiting it is that Charlotte Valandrey's character (Princess Sasha) from the 1500s and Billy Zane's character (Shelmerdine) from the 1800s reflect Orlando's sex change from a man to a woman - but in reverse. That is, Princess Sasha (who is Orlando's lover) appears reincarnate as Shelmerdine (who is also Orlando's lover) later in the film. The characters of Sasha & Shelmerdine look so alike in the film despite their different sexes.

The 'Making Of' documentary as well as the interviews with Sally Potter which came with my DVD are really excellent and are well worth watching. They shed so much light on why Potter made the film in the way she did as well as highlighting the catalogue of problems she experienced when making it.

One negative comment I have is that a lot of the humour from the book is lost in the film. I laughed out loud at various points in Woolf's book (I never realised she had such a dry/wicked sense of humour!) - but there are few laughs in the film. But this is a minor quibble. Overall 'Orlando' easily gets 5 stars from me.
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I shan't talk about the story of Orlando in this review, as a story review more properly belongs to Virginia Woolf's book. For the rest of the review, I shall assume my reader's familiarity with Orlando's general plot. However, I shall say here that, despite the film's many merits, a prior reading of Orlando is close to essential for full enjoyment and appreciation of this film. Although in my opinion, completion of at least one reading of Orlando ought to be an essential requirement of life!

As you may have noticed, I approach the film adaptation of Orlando with pre-existing bias. I love the novel and I love its tale. I bought the film primarily out of interest in how such an unusual story might be adapted for film. I didn't, however, hold particularly high hopes. Sally Potter's Orlando was a delightful surprise, as it does an excellent job of bringing Orlando to screen. First, Potter ditched a considerable amount of Woolf's original material. Considering the novel's length and complexity, this is a fully justified decision. It would have been impractical to film the novel as it stands (especially with the small budget this production had). However, this is the primary reason I recommend reading the novel prior to watching the film. The novel's ephemeral, yet somehow stark, beauty is diluted somewhat in the film, but more importantly it becomes incredibly confusing for the 'virgin' viewer. I first watched the film with a friend who (despite having an English degree) hadn't read the book - she found it a very enjoyable film despite, although largely incomprehensible.
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Love Orlando and Sally's interpretation of Virginia Woolf's book. Glad Sally brought this story to the public in her way. Sad that Virginia's life came to an abrupt end and delighted that after all those years her considerable intellect was highlighted by Sally in this artistic form. The film is visually beautiful and hauntingly nostalgic. Thought the unsual choice of Quentin Crisp as Queen Eliz.1st. worked extraordinarily well and loved Jimmy Sommervill's musical renditions which, again, were so appropriate for the reign of Eliz. 1 since women's voices were not considered suitable for musical productions of that era.
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