Now having healed from their bird scratches and psychological trauma last episode, Sean and Cody settle into some chill digs—literally—as they take apart this visually stunning 1992 queer costume drama. In Orlando, the title character (Tilda Swinton), a twinky nobleman in 1600 England, receives a rich estate from Queen Elizabeth in exchange for a promise never to grow old. But after enduring hijinx at a frost fair on the Thames, a cruel diss from the alluring Princess Sasha, and the boredom of centuries, Orlando’s true identity as a trans woman tests the boundaries of Queen Liz’s bargain. Environmental issues discussed include winters in Elizabethan England, frost fairs in London and the history of hydrodynamics of the River Thames.
What exactly is a “frost fair,” how did they get started, and were they really like the way they’re portrayed in the film? Is climate change the reason they don’t happen anymore, or is it simpler than that? Why were traffic jams in London every bit as bad in the 17th century as they are today? What’s “Lapland mutton”? Why did books have such ridiculously long titles 200 years ago? How was Virginia Woolf yet another victim of bi erasure? Who is singularly responsible for why the heavy metal subculture adopted the whole gay biker look, and what does it have to do with this movie? Can you recite a brief history of queer cinema in the 1990s? Are these “heritage” pictures mostly satires in disguise? All these questions and more are having a heyday on the frozen river between London Bridge and Blackfriars in this deeply frozen episode of Green Screen.
Modern (2020 film festival) trailer for Orlando.
In the inciting incident for Orlando, the title character (Tilda Swinton) receives a generous bequest from Queen Elizabeth (Quentin Crisp)…but with a very unusual condition.
In part of the extended frost fair sequence in Orlando, taking place in 1608, Orlando goes ice skating with penniless Russian Princess Sasha (Charlotte Valandrey). Sorry for the crappy quality.
More from the frost fair sequence. This scene between Orlando and Sasha contains one of the film’s iconic and enduring lines of dialogue, taken from the Virginia Woolf novel.
Orlando powers through the centuries, and an ingenious cinematic transition, that eventually brings love interest Shelmerdine (Billy Zane) into the film for the first time–10 minutes from the end.
Additional Materials About This Episode:
The Frost Fairs
Second Decade, Episode 3, “The Last Frost Fair”:
Jonathan Schneer, The Thames: England’s River (Little Brown, 2005) (Archive.org link):
Where you can download Frostiana (book discussed in the episode):
Title page of a pamphlet celebrating the London frost fair of 1608. This is the event depicted in Orlando.
The Thames frost fair of 1683-84, by far the longest such event, depicted in a contemporary painting by Thomas Wyke.
Contemporary print of the 1814 frost fair, which was the last one ever to take place. This is the fair discussed in Second Decade podcast episode 3.
Orlando Press Kit (Re-release):
Sally Potter, director of Orlando, and Tilda Swinton, star of the film, discuss the picture in a 2009 interview.
Co-host Cody’s trip to the “winter fair” in London, December 2019:
Where you can find Orlando: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/orlando
Next Movie Up: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)