Some explanations for Potter's decision on certain locations, set and costume design, and focusing on cinematography.
The Preface to the Koran states that inner storms in a man's life a far more devastating than those surrounding him in the physical sense. It also states that in such a situation "a new hope was born out of a systematic pursuit of my long cherished project" and "He (man) forms different conceptions of the physical world around him, at different times". Is there a religious link to Orlando's transformation? Has he too investigated in a new world only to realize that he no longer is a man, but now a 'new hope' has started from his transformation to women?
At this point Orlando is still a men. This shot has a kind of vignette effect in that angles (top right/left, bottom right/left) are in darkness and only his chest and face are illuminated by a stream of light coming from above. The fact that the light is streamed from above does symbolise something. Does it have religious connotations? Does it represent that her illumination (change of gender) is determined by some superior forces, and about to begin? It could also represent the point where Orlando is freed from his 'Englishness' and starts to absorb the native culture.
Elements from this painting certainly have inspired to some extent Potter and Rodionov when deciding on set design and cinematography. The intensity of light for the daytime shots is strongly contrasted to the shots at night. The brightness of the scenes during the day are caused by the reflection of the sun's light on the snow, giving the objects and the whole location a white palette. White in this case symbolises purity, elegance and power. All elements very much present during this scene.
The painting depicts a real event that is also depicted in Woolf's novel. The set for the shot of this scene was actually located in Russia, being the first country to get involved in the production of the film it brings it a further international feature.
Central to the scene is the Queen and Orlando who occupies the bottom right side of the screen. Sitting at the long table are a lot of people but because the colours surrounding them are so dark (mainly of red nature), and the light focused on the throne, the Queen takes a dominant position (her sin is more white, her presence is more intense in the shot).
Voiceover present in some of the most important scenes; beginning, change of sex, end. Voice over and direct address used as cinematic techniques to address audiences construct a a kind of 'negotiation between virginia Woolf's text and our knowledge of it and its garrulous narrating biographer' (Hutcheon, 2006: 120).
Since initial thoughts about the adaptation, the idea to start the film in the same historical period of the book was already present. Comparing first draft and published screenplay we can see differences in how true to the novel Potter wanted the film to start. The first draft relies more on the book, the published screenplay minimises the introduction to the scene of the oak tree.
Potter was looking for a cinematic tool that would translate the way Woolf addresses readers of the book, as an equivalent to the long monologues and thoughts that Orlando has in the novel. The direct address technique has also the aim to release the viewer and Orlando from the historical period that is perceived and in which the protagonist lives, a release that transports to the present period.
The process of adaptation starts from the director's cinematic vision. He/she might apply different subjective visions or stay true to the spirit of the novel and find a line form. However, for Potter it was essential to identify and then transfer the essence of the book onto the film. She then explains that 'in order to be kind to a book on film you have to be cruel'.
With this film she understands how cinema really works.