Release Date: 12 March 1993
Director: Sally Potter
Production Company: Sony Pictures Classics
Adapted from a novel by Virginia Woolf, Orlando is a fantastical period drama directed by Sally Potter starring Tilda Swinton as a British noble named Orlando. There are a couple of things you need to know about title character: 1. Orlando is seemingly immortal, living from at least the late 16th-century to the present day, and 2. About 2/3’s through this movie, Orlando goes through a magical physical transformation from a man’s body to a woman’s body. The film explores ideas of feminism, sexuality, gender, and British history and does so with cinematic flair and fantastic costuming. Singer Jimmy Somerville sings on the soundtrack and appears in the film, his countertenor voice appropriate to Orlando’s androgyny.
When I saw this movie back in the mid-90s, it was the first time I’d seen Tilda Swinton and I can’t imagine any actor being more perfect for this role. I love the way she looks to the camera and breaks the fourth wall. I read the book around the same time I first saw the movie, but I can’t remember which came first. I knew next to nothing about transgenderism at the time, but this story is obviously also a metaphor for the transgender experience. “Same person. No difference at all… just a different sex.”
I’m glad I revisited this movie as it feels to have gained new layers of meaning in the 2020s, much as Sally Potter added layers of meaning appropriate to the 1990s to Virginia Woolf’s observations on the 1920s.