Critics 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.



Total Count: 56


Audience Score

User Ratings: 8,509
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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.


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
Jerome Willis
as Translator
Elaine Banham
as Orlando's Mother
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
Toby Jones
as 2nd Valet
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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News & Interviews for Orlando

Critic Reviews for Orlando

All Critics (56) | Top Critics (19) | Fresh (47) | Rotten (9)

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

    Feb 7, 2018 | Full Review…

    Caryn James

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

    Mar 23, 2015 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • What it lacks in coherence it makes up for in sheer spectacle.

    Mar 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.

    Mar 23, 2015 | Full Review…
  • Reminiscent of the low-budget lushness of the early films of Peter Greenaway and Ken Russell, Orlando could turn out to be the art-house smash of the summer.

    Mar 23, 2015 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Potter possesses a natural gracefulness in presentation that helps a little but, finally, not nearly enough. Orlando is vague when she means it to be mysterious, coy when it ought to be witty, familiar when it should be bold.

    Mar 23, 2015 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Orlando

  • Sep 14, 2013
    Orlando is a pleasant surprise after being bored to death by The Man Who Cried. This highly surrealistic epic takes place over about four centuries (+). Immediately there is a gender confusion in the audience, is Swinton playing a woman or a male? Eventually this is answered, but it goes through a gruesome process to get to clarity. Adapted from Virgina Woolf's novel , this is separated into pieces and themes, my favorites were Love, Death, and Society. The film has highly praised, artistic design, and it is worthy of it. The film swifts from century to century in smooth fashion, making it never a bore. Swinton is great in her many roles as Orlando. For the most part I enjoyed the surrealism, but that last angel scene was painfully cheesy.
    Daniel D Super Reviewer
  • Feb 06, 2012
    Nice interesting gender switching tale here that is utterly thought provoking. No one other than Tilda Swinton could make it work as well as it does.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 10, 2011
    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 M Super Reviewer
  • May 23, 2009
    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 S Super Reviewer

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