Orlando Review

Image for Orlando

Orlando is a young nobleman who is given eternal youth by Elizabeth I, so that he can change between centuries (and sexes) to try and find a meaning in life and love.


Continually clearing its throat to utter something profound about sexuality, this never quite delivers the speech, though its failure to fully engage the mind is made up for by its captivation of the eye. A sumptuously shot stroll through the centuries, based on Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name, it has Orlando (Swinton) as a man born into Elizabethan England who lives forever and changes into a woman.

Packaging each period into a slight dramatic episode with its own theme — love, poetry, politics, society and so on — this whirl always has Swinton as a radiant stillness at the centre, with her classical English full moon of a face, gently fizzing charisma and wry asides to camera.

Yet she never convincingly plays Orlando the man, and it's here that the film really gets its knickers in a twist. In the most deliberately confusing moment, which nevertheless has an excruciating humour, Queen Elizabeth I (Crisp) takes a shine to Orlando, sending out a scramble of signals as a gay man plays an old woman flirting with a woman playing a young man.

As you would expect with Peter Greenaway collaborators on board, the design is lush and painterly, but though the look is outstanding, Potter offers slim pickings in the enlightenment department: Orlando reaches contentment when she stops trying to be something she or he isn't — which is fair enough, of course, but a message unworthy of the weight of work on display here. It is, however, arty but digestible, and considerably funnier and less pretentious than you could possibly have hoped.

What it perhaps lacks in content, the film more than makes up for in its stunning design and accesible, humorous approach.