Earlier this year, Sally Potter's 1992 film, Orlando (an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's book), was re-released. For the visually oriented, the film offers seriously sumptuous fare. One Elizabethan scene even includes a literal feast of flowers, and Oscar-winner Sandy Powell designed the costumes. Writing for Slate, Dan Kois notes that when Orlando came to the Sundance film festival in 1993, it probably appeared to be more Merchant Ivory than Sundance but, he asserts, Potter's interpretation -- her "mix of the ornate and the offhand" -- went on to pave the way for some of Wes Anderson's work as well as Sofia Coppola's playful Marie Antoinette.
Artistic productions are especially good sources of inspiration during the holidays, so I thought I'd highlight just a few visual aspects to look for when watching Orlando.
First, Potter's color-coding. As a commentary on the Golden Age of Elizabeth I, all scenes that take place during the Elizabethan era are dominated by warm tones -- reds, yellows, coppers and golds. Later, when Orlando is living in the Victorian period, greens take over to signify new life ahead.
Two historic houses were used for location shoots: Hatfield House and Blenheim Palace. Both are still in private hands, not part of England's National Trust, but I asked NT's Emile de Bruijn of Treasure Hunt to share his personal observations of the aristocratic old dwellings. Right off the bat, he pointed out that each is still thriving and attracts crowds of visitors.
More from Emile:
"Hatfield House began as a royal palace, and Queen Elizabeth I spent her youth there. There is a tree in the park which is supposed to mark the spot where she received the news that she had become Queen following her sister Mary's death."
[Great Hall at Hatfield House]
Continuing, he explains, "Part of the old palace is still there, a beautiful weathered red brick building. In recent decades Mollie, Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury -- an important twentieth-century gardener in her own right, and a pioneer of the organic movement -- restored the Elizabethan garden, and she also planted an amazing scented garden nearby, focusing on plants with strong fragrances.
[Image via Barnes & Noble.]
The Cecil (pronounced to rhyme with thistle) family of Hatfield goes back to William Cecil, a self-made man who rose to prominence under Queen Elizabeth I and became an indispensable minister in her court. Hatfield House was actually built by his son Robert, the 1st Earl of Salisbury, in the reign of James I, and it still has a strongly Jacobean appearance, including its picturesque silhouette.
[Grand Staircase at Hatfield House]
In Victorian times the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury was three times Prime Minister and Hatfield was a great political center. There are still many state papers of the period in the Hatfield archive -- Lord Salisbury saw no problem in literally taking his work home with him, and keeping it there! (No thoughts of Wikileaks in those days!)
[Chinese Bedroom at Hatfield House]
It was also in the time of the 3rd Marquess that they installed electric light at Hatfield, with live wires running along the ceilings. Occasionally these would erupt into flames, but they would just throw a few cushions up to put it out -- a nice example of aristocratic insouciance!"
In part two, we'll look at Blenheim Palace.
Related past post: Dramatic Color.