Research for a paper on Orlando\'s relocation of Woolf\'s Constantinople to Khiva, exploring the subtexts of imperial history and the significance of travel for the film (and the production).
"endings are beginnings": the novel is circular, beginning and ending with "home." The film is also circular, but moves on from the "clinging to the past" that Potter notes. For Woolf, Home is the "Great House" (and England), which Orlando possesses despite her change of sex, a reversal of the gendered laws that deprived Vita Sackville-West of Knole. But Sackville-West was also a traveller, and travel writer, and the novel is full of constant motion (at least until Orlando becomes female). The film suggests the novel's subtext of change as constant.
But space is shown as gendered as well, relating not only to stasis and travel, but to the act of making art. The library is the only room in the house where we have ever seen Orlando alone; the butler, footmen, doctors and singers are able to enter Orlando%u2019s bedchamber while he sleeps. By defining reading and writing as private activities, the gentleman's library or study raised them to professions and conserved them for men (cf. Mark Wigley, 1992). The camera's intrusion (a rare push-in) underlines this sense of privacy.
Bedrooms (and hallways) are central to Woolf's construction of "home" in the novel (which ends with Orlando buying new bedsheets for her beloved Great House). It's interesting that in the film we only see the bedroom twice: once when Orlando first falls asleep for seven days (after Sasha leaves him) and later just before Shelmerdine leaves her. It's more like a way-station, a pause -- almost a place out of the world -- than the solid foundation of identity that it is in the novel. There's never a scene of Orlando in his/her bedroom alone, claiming ownership of it OR being owned by it (and at the end, she doesn't buy sheets, she turns them in).
Means of transport: Orlando enters Khiva on a palanquin, leaves it on a camel. Elsewhere in the film -- sleds and skates over the ice, Shelmerdine's horse, her motorbike at the end. Jan Morris notes in "Travels With Virginia Woolf" that Woolf loved her motorcar, and was fascinated by modes of travel (except ships, which bored her). I wonder if Orlando is the only British costume drama in which no character is ever seen travelling in a carriage?
In the film, Woolf's Constantinople (whose Asiatic half was the only place outside Europe that the novelist ever visited) becomes Khiva. Why? As Anna Pavord points out in her history of the flower, Uzbekistan is, in fact, famous for its valleys of wild tulips. The bulbs were brought to Europe from its native Turkey, smuggled in the bags of a Belgian diplomat in the sixteenth century.
In 1839, both Britain and Russia attempted to free Russian slaves held in the city. Russia intended to use the slaves as an excuse to attack and annex Khiva; when they failed, the British, who were caught up in the first Anglo-Afghan war, sent an envoy to the Khan, the hereditary ruler, in order to remove Russian pretext for an invasion. As King William "turn[s his] attention to the East," Orlando becomes a precursor of the resonantly-named Lieutenant Richmond Shakespear, the successful second envoy.
Earliest draft shows that Potter adapted the Rustum scenes, in which Orlando travels through the Anatolian highlands with a band of gypsies. This is the most extensive glimpse of Orlando in motion in the novel, and it\'s a pretty idyllic experience -- until Orlando sees a vision playing across the hills (which Vlasoupolous notes is very much like cinema) of 'oak trees dotted here and there' and the gentle sighs and shivers of a summer's day in England that cause her to burst into a passion of tears's at her homesickness.
The logistics of filming in Khiva: notes on maps, strategic locations (reservoir), and local contacts have an interesting similarity to the notes made by British spies about the terrain and peoples between British India and the Russian border. I can't help but feel there's a Great Game connection here... a comment on empire that's also a comment on transnational filmmaking.
Realising the Khiva scene: notable for a) the recurrent twins (everyone in Khiva apart from the Khan is a twin -- another paper?) and b) its relation to Potter's experience of shooting in Khiva, where the deal was signed with a vodka-heavy picnic in the desert (footage is included in the documentary on the Orlando DVD.)