Tilda Swinton Emerges To Eminence In "Orlando"

Tilda Swinton, one of the most celebrated actresses of the moment and something of a deity in the worlds of art and fashion, has made her presence known in the mainstream somewhat recently in view of her abiding pedigree in the avant-garde. She began her film career in the mid 1980’s as the muse of underground British filmmaker Derek Jarman. His films such as The Last of England and Caravaggio, though treasured in the realm of the art house, maintain an air of the esoteric. Beginning the late 90’s Swinton attracted the attention of indie pundits like Spike Jonze, Jim Jarmusch and Wes Anderson who aided in her gradual ascension to Hollywood. With an Academy Award for Best Supporting actress for Michael Clayton (2007) and an arresting performance in I Am Love (2009), she established herself as rare and elegant figure in the world of cinema, her otherworldly bearing and versatile talent earning her roles in blockbusters such as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Trainwreck.

The film that first showcased the actress’ radiant potential for stardom, however, was Sally Potter’s 1992 epic adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s magical realist novel Orlando.

Orlando follows the historical adventures of an English Lord rendered immortal by a magic wish from Queen Elizabeth I, played by the legendary queer writer and philosopher Quentin Crisp. His portrayal of the Queen, and Swinton in a male role for the first several chapters of the film, foreshadow the peculiar plot twist whereby Orlando wakes up from one of his long hibernations to discover that he has transformed into a woman.

The plot is divided into several chapters spanning from Elizabethan England to the Victorian Era, each titled by its central theme. The first is Death, where Queen Elizabeth bestows unto Orlando the gift of eternal youth and the deed to a splendid manor in which to dwell throughout eternity. The second chapter, Love, takes place almost entirely on ice skates as the English countryside is frozen over in the icy scenery of Orlando’s heartbreak at the hands of a beautiful Russian countess. In Poetry, Orlando tries his hand in the art of writing; followed by Politics where he travels as emissary to the Khan in Constantinople, played with perfect aplomb by Lothaire Bluteau. By the 1700’s the Lord has metamorphosed to the Lady Orlando, where she is stung by the disadvantages of women  in Society.  In the final chapter, Sex, the now Victorian lady enjoys a torrid affair with a dashing nobleman played by Billy Zane, comically resembling a hero in a romance novel astride a black steed.

The resplendent abodes and regalia chronicling centuries of aristocracy and exotic locales won the film Academy Awards for both Production Design and Costume Design. Sally Potter’s droll and light hand with the weighty subject matter make the film even more pleasurable. For, in addition to the grand themes entitling each of the film’s chapters,Orlando is a courageous and well-formed commentary on gender identity and feminism.

Orlando is screening this Friday, March 3rd at 10:30pm.

For a full cinema schedule visit www.roxycinemtribeca.com. For general enquiries, please call 212.519.6820 or email info@roxycinematribeca.com

Words by M.Pellerano