Orlando – Special Edition (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

August 3, 2010 by  

Unique, fascinating, humorous and just a pleasure to watch.  Tilda Swinton is fantastic and writer/director Sallie Potter did an amazing job in her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s popular novel, a novel which many have considered as impossible to bring to the big screen.  Definitely recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1992 Adventure Pictures (Orlando) Limited. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Orlando – Special Edition


DURATION: 94 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Surround, Subtitles: English, English SDH

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (For Some Sensuality)

RELEASE DATE: August 17, 2010

Based on the Novel by Virginia Woolf

Directed by Sally Potter

Produced by Christopher Sheppard

Associated Produced by Richard Salmon, Martine Kelly, Lynne Hanke

Line Producer: Laurie Borg

Music by David Motion, Sally Potter

Cinematography by Aleksei Rodionov

Edited by Herve Schneid

Casting by Irene Lamb

Production Design by Jan Roelfs, Ben van Os

Art Direction by Michael Buchanan, Michael Howells

Costume Design by Sandy Powell, Dien van Straalen


Tilda Swinton as Orlando

Billy Zane as Shelmerdine

Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I

John Bott as Orlando’s Father

Elaine Banham    as Orlando’s Mother

Anna Farnworth as Clorinda

Sara Mair-Thomas as Favilla

Anna Healy as Euphrosyne

Dudley Sutton as King James I

Simon Russell Beale    as Earl of Moray

Matthew Sim as Lord Francis Vere

Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane and Quentin Crisp star in this “hip, sexy and wickedly funny” film based on the gender-bending novel by Virginia Woolf. Swinton stars as Orlando, an English nobleman who defies the law of nature with surprising results. Immortal and highly imaginative, he undergoes a series of extraordinary transformations which humorously and hauntingly illustrate the eternal war between the sexes. Visually stunning and beautifully acted, ORLANDO is an intoxicating blend of romance, adventure and illusion.

A genderbending film that pays its respect to Virgina Woolf’s original work.  Sensually witty and highly enjoyable!

English author, essayist, publisher Virginia Woolf, was a key figure in modernist literature.  As a woman who was inspired by avante garde which influenced her original work, she was a woman who was not only intellectual but a woman who was an individual that walked the beat of her own drum.  From being married to a man and having an affair with aristocrat and English author/poet Vita Sackville-West.

In 1928, Virginia Woolf wrote a semi-biographical novel based on the life of Vita titled “Orlando”.  One of Woolf’s most accessible novels and eventually a novel that would receive its film adaptation in 1992 courtesy of writer/director Sally Potter (“The Tango Lesson”, “The London Story”, “The Gold Diggers”).  The film would go on to receive a 1992 Academy Award nomination for Costume Design and Production Design.

The film revolves around the androgynous character Orlando (played by Tilda Swinton) which takes place during four time periods.  The story begins with Orlando during the Elizabethan age, and as a man who is asked by Queen Elizabeth I (played by Quentin Crisp) that he will be given land and a castle if he fulfills the promise of “Do not fade.  Do not wither.  Do not grow old.”

Orlando keeps the promise and thus will never grow old.   After the promise is made, The story begins and we see the battle of the sexes through the eyes of Orlando.

The first time period 1610 takes on the topic of love and features Orlando, a man who is married but has eyes for the daughter of the Muscovite ambassador.  Orlando experiences love for the first time from a woman.

The second time period takes place in 1650 as Orlando has pursued an interest in poetry and art.  This time befriending a popular poet named Mr. Greene and wanting him to review his poetry and in return for his time, Orlando will fulfill his request of a yearly pension.  But Orlando is unaware of what the poet really thinks of his poetry.

The third time period takes place in 1700 and deals with politics.  Orlando becomes the British Ambassador to the Turks and is in Constantinople where he meets a man who represents the Turks.  The man wishes for the assistance of England to fight his enemies and next thing you know, both men begin to fall for each other.

By the end of this story for this time period, something magical has happened and Orlando, who was a man wakes up and sees that she no longer has a body of a man but now of a woman.  Same person, different sex.

It is now the fourth time period, and features Orlando in the year 1750 and deals with society.  This story deals with Orlando, who is now living life as a woman and learning that there are restrictions of being a woman during this time period.  And from here on in, we see Orlando as a woman experiencing life and the challenges of being a woman.  Especially facing lawsuits because as a woman, she is not supposed to own land and is thus being challenged as a person who has never been a man and has always been a woman and has no right to the property or inheritance (given to Orlando by Queen Elizabeth I).

Having lived life as a man and then life as a woman, how will Orlando endure in the present time?


“Orlando” is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen.  For a 1992 film, the latest DVD release for “Orlando” is not a huge improvement over its 1999 DVD release.  I know one of the problems that some people had with the original release was the amount of spotting and that the colors look a bit muted.

I personally haven’t seen the 1999 DVD release but with this 2010 DVD release, colors such as reds, browns and blacks are more pronounced.  There are some parts where colors do look muted and some areas looking a bit faded.  But I would imagine it’s due to the film stock used around that time.  The film does manage to contain a god amount of grain but also has its share of low-light noise.  I did see some occasional dust while viewing but it was not plentiful.  Also, because there are a good number of lengthy special features included with the film on one DVD, I imagine that there would have to be some compromising in terms of picture quality.

But as for the difference between the two DVD releases when it comes to picture quality, although I haven’t seen the 1993 DVD, with DVD authoring having changed so much in the last decade that I feel confident that this 2010 DVD release of “Orlando” is much better than the previous DVD release nearly eleven years ago.

I will say that with Sony Pictures Classics usually doing simultaneous releases for Blu-ray and DVD, I am surprised that “Orlando” is only being given a DVD release, because this is one film I would have loved to see an HD upgrade.


“Orlando” is presented in English Dolby Surround.  The film is primarily center and front channel driven and for the most part, is mostly all dialogue.  There is a scene in which Orlando goes through a field where bombs are exploding and that is probably the major extent of action-based sequences.  But for the most part, dialogue is clear and the music and ambiance sounds do come clear through the front channels but I don’t really recall the surround channels or LFE being utilized all that much.

Subtitles are in English and English SDH.


“Orlando” comes with the following special features:

  • Select Scenes Commentary with Director Sally Potter – (10:17) Writer/Director Sally Potter does commentary for select scenes from the film.  The audio commentary is more like an interview with Sally Potter who explains why she made “Orlando” into a film.
  • Orlando Goes to Russia – (32:57) A documentary featuring Sally Potter going to Russia to film the 1610 time period for “Orlando”.  This featurette is a video diary of producer Christopher Sheppard documenting Sally Potter and producers wanting to film in Russia and how the negotiations took place during the time of when Russia had just allowed film companies to start filming in their country and the two years of research and rounds of negotiations in trying to get parts of the film shot in Russia and the challenges the film crew had in trying to get the film shot in Russia.
  • Orlando in Uzbekistan – (51:53) A featurette about shooting in Uzbekistan and the challenges that arose during the filming in Uzbekistan and the expectancy of any Western company coming into the country to shoot a film is loaded with a lot of money and thus, people abandoning the country and wanting to renegotiate for more money from the producers and thus halting the film production.
  • Jimmy Was An Angel – (8:03) A featurette about a singer Jimmy Sommerville (of Bronski Beat and the Communards) who played an angel in the film “Orlando” and a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of that scene.
  • Venice Film Festival Press Conference – (23:08) Featuring the press conference that took place after the screening of “Orlando” at the “Venice International Film Festival 1992”.
  • An Interview with Sally Potter – (13:21) Featuring an interview with Sally Potter at the “Venice International Film Festival 1992”.  Potter talks about why she chose to do an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:16) The original theatrical trailer for the film.

Passion.  Immortality.  The chance to experience life differently and how the experience is everchanging.

Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”, a semi-biographical novel based on Vita Sackville-West, the woman that Woolf was intimate with, is truly a unique cinema experience and an interesting look at the treatment of women and their position in society during that era.

Although written in a way in which many people at the time were unaware that this book was a semi-biography, I tend to look at this film (as based on the novel) as a story that is quite liberating.  And similar to how Orlando is shown through different time periods, I often wonder how people have perceived Woolf’s most accessible novel during the various decades, especially the changes in how women are treated in business, politics and society but also to see how people perceived the character of Orlando and having had to experience life as a man and a woman and thus reading a book that does deal with sexual tendencies.

I believe that Woolf who wrote the story in 1928 as a love letter to Vita broke new boundaries as a modernist but also in crafting a story that is fiction/non-fiction and writing without any constraints.

All this is quite intriguing and to see how the very passionate writer/director Sally Potter giving great care in the adaptation of the novel and being persistent in trying to capture that feel and look by traveling to different countries and doing the necessary research in several years and making it happen.  Again, I haven’t read the original book but having read reviews of people who have and feeling that Woolf did a remarkable job in her screenplay should show you how dedicated Potter and her producers were in bringing “Orlando” to life.

Let me first tell you how remarkable actress Tilda Swinton was in this film.  To play an androgynous man and later a woman who experiences a lifetime of changes due to her immortality but to keep this straight face on and yet able to quickly deliver these humorous one-liners and seeing her react to the various characters around her was quite entertaining.  Billy Zane did a great job playing Shelmerdine and although short roles, Quentin Crisp as Queen Ellizabeth I and Jimmy Sommerville as an angel were well-done and brought a not-so-serious but subtle yet farcical feel to the overall film.

As previously mentioned, I didn’t own the 1999 DVD of “Orlando” but for those who have been wanting this film on DVD, you get a good number of special features included.  I definitely respected Sally Potters determination in making this film after watching these featurettes and knowing the challenges she and the producers had faced in filming in Russia and Uzbekistan.   There is a good amount of lengthy features included, the 2010 special edition DVD release has over 2 hours of never-before-seen extra footage (comparing to the 1999 DVD release, I see that four special features were included in the 1999 release but have a shorter duration than what is presented in the 2010 version).

Overall, “Orlando” was an enjoyable film and I can see how anyone watching this film would see the incredible potential of actress Tilda Swinton.  Many have criticized the actress of her role as a man as unbelievable.  But my focus was not on the portrayal of man but the evolution of a person who has been both man and woman and trying to adjust to the changes that Orlando must face in a variety of time periods to the person’s own immortality.

The film captures your attention due to the detail that went into the costume and production design but its the witty one liners that come out of Orlando’s mouth that I found humorous.  But it’s the political satire of the film that I find most intriguing and Sally Potter did a great job in capturing that in her film.  “Orlando” is a film that is entertaining, humorous and truly captivating.  Definitely recommended.

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