In writing Orlando, Virginia Woolf had to her disposal the infinite power of the English language. Using her imaginative flair for writing, Woolf was able to vividly describe and create the world in which Orlando lives; we are transported through time, and to incredible landscapes all across the globe with ease. Sally Potter then, had the largely more difficult task of physically recreating this diegetic world. Through this pathway I will explore the real life locations Potter used to create Orlando's world, and the reasons behind these choices.
This list of key landscapes and settings, written three years before production began may be a very useful place to begin. Here, Potter has established every significant location in the novel; we can use this list as a basis for exploring the process of translating selected locations to actual settings for filming.Immediately from the list we can recognise the importance of outdoor landscapes such as "English countryside", "the oak tree" and "Turkey - mountains", reflective of Orlando's love of nature which is so prevalent in the novel. These particular exterior locations may have been the easiest to consider at this stage of development; actual locations that are similar to the descriptions could be scouted for filming. On the other hand, outdoor settings such as "London, at different historical points" may have posed more of a challenge. Very specific set design, props and costumes are required in creating certain time periods (e.g. half-timbered houses and filthy cobbled streets for Elizabethan London) and this would most likely require filming on set as opposed to on location. The changing scenes of London are incredibly important in the novel as they signify the passage of time. For example, returning to England in the 18th century, having spent the last century abroad, Orlando is amazed by the "urban glories" of London such as "the dome of St Paul’s which Mr Wren had built during her absence” (Woolf 85) suggesting the growth of the city; or the vivid descriptions of "the great cloud" (112) which hung over London during the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Large sets would need to be built and lots of set design work would have to go into creating these scenes which would probably have put great strain on the budget. We of course know that, ultimately, this is one of several settings on the list which were not included in the film - these sorts of monetary considerations may have contributed to deciding which of the locations would remain in the film, and which would be omitted. Another location on the list which remained absent from the film is Nick Greene's household, which we briefly enter in the novel, as he writes his satirical story about Orlando. Potter is very economical in both time and money in the way she translates this episode from text to screen. Potter condenses the scene so that instead of building his house, we see him writing the story on his way home, in a little row boat.
This sketch depicts another indoor location which was omitted from the film; Nell's room. In the novel we are introduced to Nell the prostitute whom the female Orlando meets whilst pretending to be a man, but, revealing herself to be a woman, the two quickly become friends. Unlike Nick Greene's house though, this episode in Nell's room is not substituted for anything else but is instead completely absent from the film. This is a perfect example of the way in which a novel must be condensed when being adapted for film; plot points must be prioritised and some, unfortunately, must be cut out.
Instead of building numerous sets, Orlando was mostly filmed in three different locations. The first of which was interior and exterior of Hatfield House, used to represent Orlando's stately home. This is one of the most important locations in both the novel and the film as it remains the one constant throughout the three centuries Orlando lives through. The timelessness of the interior décor of the House meant that it was a perfect location to use; it did not look out of place in any part of the film, despite the immense passage of time.
Orlando’s love of nature and the outdoors means that the exterior of this country home is also incredibly important in the novel. In the book we get very vivid, detailed descriptions of the grounds around the house and we are told “there was no plot of earth without its bloom, and no stretch of sward without its shade” (p53/4). For a film with a small budget this horticultural wonderland would have been very costly to create. Instead, Potter designs a rather stylised garden herself, building hedge sculptures in unusual shapes such as teapots and saucers. The passage of time is also expressed through these grounds as, by the end of the film, these sculptures are covered in white sheets.
The grounds of Hatfield House proved very useful in other ways. Potter was obviously very taken with the hedgerow maze already present in the gardens of House, and uses it to the film’s advantage. Though this does not happen in the novel, Potter cleverly uses the maze as a visual tool to transport us and Orlando through time. We follow Orlando entering the maze in the 18th century, and by running through the maze and a sudden costume change she emerges from the maze in the 19th century.
This painting depicting the real Great Frost of the seventeenth century clearly influenced Potter when designing the set for this part of the film, and no doubt Woolf herself would have studied similar paintings documenting these frost fairs. Potter wanted to create a sense of authenticity wanted real ice and snow, so the second of the shooting locations was where they filmed the winter scenes: St Petersburg, Russia. Originally, the plan was to shoot the entire film in Moscow with Mosfilm to reduce expense, but ultimately they only shot the winter scenes in Russia, shooting on the frozen Gulf of Finland with Lenfilm instead. This alternative was still much cheaper than if they had filmed in the UK: the final total production cost was only $4 million.
The third key filming location was also part of the then USSR: Khiva, Uzbekistan. This translated well from text to screen as, though we do not have “the sunset blazing over the Thessalian hills”, we still get a beautiful desert town and landscape, similar to Turkey which is described in the novel. Filming in Uzbekistan greatly reduced costs but as well as money, politics had to be taken into consideration.
This photograph was presented to the local authorities of Khiva as a souvenir, to help persuade them to be able to film in the Itchan Kala ruins. They had to negotiate with the government and the army; reminding us of the very strict nature of the then communist union.
So after three weeks in St Petersburg, five in London and two in Khiva, the final total production cost was only $4 million, a staggering amount less than the estimated $10 million if they filmed on set just in the UK.