How do the films Orlando and Portrait of a Lady reflect social power structures?

1 Answer | Add Yours

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

What is interesting about both of these films is the way in which they present the female as a figure that is variously restricted and inhibited by the social power structures of the day. This is shown most clearly in the figure of Orlando, who starts off his long life as a male and then changes into a female to discover that life as a woman results in very different expectations and freedoms compared to her time as a male. A woman is a figure who is curiously limited in terms of society whatever age she inhabits, this film seems to suggest.

In the same way the figure of Isabel Archer, who starts off the film with such hope and optimism about life and has such great desires to experience different things and voyage through various parts of the globe is met head on with the reality of marriage and the way that this restricts her. Interestingly, the film actually ends very differently from the book. In the book, the poor Isabel Archer returns to her loveless marriage with her abusive husband because of the restrictions of society. In the film, the way that she looks back towards her American lover and then the film finishes at this stage deliberately taunts us with the possibility of a different ending, and one that would be much happier for Isabel. However, this ending would only be possible if she were willing to flout the social conventions and expectations of the day.


We’ve answered 317,671 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question