A young nobleman in the seventeenth century makes a promise to his Queen to never grow old, living on through to the twentieth after undergoing a transformation to womanhood.
Based on a story by Virginian Woolf, Orlando is an ambitious attempt to portray gender issues spanning the centuries. Tilda Swinton shares the limelight with some wonderful costumes and locations, appearing just at home in doublet and hoes as a corset and bustle and her central performance is arresting. It’s a pity that the rest of the cast don’t really get a chance to shine, as the story is represented as a series of all-too-short vignettes where some initially intriguing supporting characters appear briefly but disappear again before there is any chance to explore them or their relationship with Orlando. This is a real shame because some of the scenes, especially concerning her receiving the kind of attitudes that she was herself guilty of having when she was a man, had real potential. This is doubly true of Zane’s character who is the other side of the coin of Orlando’s transformation. It is sometimes guilty of being too “arty” for its own good, the gimmicky casting of Quentin Crisp as Elizabeth I and the appearance of Jimmy Somerville as a golden angel overstep the boundary to pure camp.
It’s certainly an interesting and beautifully realised film visually, but The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button did something similar with a lot more heart.