Orlando (1993) - Rotten Tomatoes

Orlando (1993)



Critic Consensus: Orlando can't match its visual delights with equally hefty narrative -- but it's so much fun to watch that it doesn't need to.

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Movie Info

Independent filmmaker Sally Potter's gender-bending epic, which views four centuries of sexual politics through the eyes of a sex-switching main character, is based on the 1928 novel by Virginia Woolf. The androgynous title character is played with delicate quietude by Tilda Swinton. The story begins during the reign of the aging Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp, in a droll turn recalling his The Naked Civil Servant). Queen Elizabeth takes a shine to the attractive young Orlando and seeks out his sexual favors. In return, Elizabeth grants him a large estate, commanding him, "Do not fade, do not wither, do not grow old." Orlando takes the queen at her word and doesn't. When Elizabeth dies, Orlando becomes attracted to Sasha (Charlotte Valandrey), the daughter of a Russian diplomat, but she rebuffs his advances. Crushed, Orlando accepts an ambassadorship to Constantinople. After witnessing the killing of a man in battle, Orlando undergoes a change of sex, becoming a woman and returning to England, where she hobnobs with 18th-century geniuses like Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Addison. Walking through a garden labyrinth, the time frame shifts to the 19th century, and Orlando falls in love with a handsome American (Billy Zane). Now in the 20th century, Orlando gives birth to his child and continues on.

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Billy Zane
as Shelmerdine
Heathcote Williams
as Nick/Publisher
Quentin Crisp
as Queen Elizabeth I
Thom Hoffman
as William of Orange
Ned Sherrin
as Mr. Addison
Jimmy Somerville
as Falsetto >Angel
Dudley Sutton
as King James I
Simon Russell Beale
as Earl of Moray
Elaine Banham
as Orlando's Mother
Jerome Willis
as Translator
John Bott
as Orlando's Father
Mary McLeod Bethune
as 1st Older Woman
John Byrne
as Courtier
Lol Coxhill
as First Butler
Sarah Crowden
as Queen Mary
Robert Demeger
as 3rd Valet
John Grillo
as 1st Official
Roger Hammond
as Mr. Swift
Peter Hayward
as Harpsichordist
Anna Healy
as Euphrosyne
Barbara Hicks
as 2nd Older Woman
Olivia Lancelot
as Young French Woman
Cyril Lecomte
as Young French Man
Alfie McHugh
as Courtier
Mary MacLeod
as 1st Older Woman
Alexander Medvedev
as Russian Sailor
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Critic Reviews for Orlando

All Critics (60) | Top Critics (25)

Potter's ironies, veering between the blunt and the exquisite, the oblique and the confrontational, expose the cruel hazards of nature and the perversities of culture.

November 20, 2020 | Full Review…

With words from Shakespeare and Spenser and music from Jimmy Somerville, this is a kaleidoscopic celebration of Albion. Or an art-house Highlander, if you prefer.

March 3, 2020 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

The film's wit and layered sense of history seem richer than ever.

February 7, 2018 | Full Review…
Top Critic

The good news about this historical vaudeville is that Orlando's consciousness, like his/her gender, is a delightful work-in-progress.

March 23, 2015 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

What it lacks in coherence it makes up for in sheer spectacle.

March 23, 2015 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Though visually impressive and assured, it is the hollowest of successes, all chic set design, smug posturing and self-satisfied attitude.

March 23, 2015 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Orlando


Simply put one of the best movies I have ever seen. The cast is amazing and deliver in their performances, the stunning visuals and beautiful music combine to create a dreamy atmosphere through which S. Potter uses Orlando as a medium to make subtle and elegant commentaries about life, the human condition and the struggle of the sexes to understand each other when they are basically two aspects of the same coin. As opposed to some of the other reviewers here I did not find the movie slow or boring at any time. Nor is it just about Orlando; there are multiple layers. It flows simply and quietly but with great intensity and an underlying irony at every moment. This film must be Potter's masterpiece.

Cassandra Maples
Cassandra Maples

Super Reviewer


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 the 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 look in, as the story is represented as a series of all-too-short vignettes where some initially intriguing supporting characters appear briefly but are gone again before there is any chance to explore them or 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 (although it could be argued that he is the perfect choice to play an old queen...) and the appearance of Jimmy Somerville as a golden angel overstep the boundary to campness. It's certainly an interesting and beautifully realised film visually, but Benjamin Button did something similar with a lot more heart.

xGary Xx
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer


A true forgotten classic. Watching Orlando is heartbreaking because you know they're never going to make another film as bizarre or beautiful as this ever again. Modern Hollywood just wouldn't allow something involving an androgynous immortal, inexplicable gender changes, the breaking of the fourth wall, and a bizarrely evangelical ending to be distributed, let alone created for 5 million dollars. This is art. It doesn't always make sense, but trying to parse it and giving it personal meaning makes the experience completely worthwhile. Kudos to Sally Potter for creating such an uncompromising adaptation of a Virginia Woolf novel. Kudos to Tilda Swinton, who I fall more in love with every day and who has one of the most exciting and diverse filmographies of any living performer today. Kudos to all involved with this striking, unique, powerful innovation.

Drew Smith
Drew Smith

Super Reviewer

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