Orlando, My Political Biography | Picturehouse Recommends

Writer and activist Paul B. Preciado composes a playful and moving tribute to Virginia Woolf's novel with this portrait of trans and non-binary life.

Lillian Crawford

26 Jun 24

Paul B. Preciado

Release Date
5 July


Oscar S. Miller, Janis Sahraoui, Liz Christin, Elios Lévy, Victor Marzouk


Running Time
99 mins

"Orlando had become a woman – there is no denying it."

So wrote Virginia Woolf in her ground-breaking novel of 1928 in which her age-defying protagonist swaps he for she overnight without much ado. It is a literary device that has resonated with queer and trans readers since publication, not least with writer and activist Paul B. Preciado.

Inspired by the radically political films of Jean-Luc Godard in 1960s Paris, Preciado's Orlando, My Political Biography gathers a microcosm of the French LGBTQ+ community to compose a letter to Woolf, thanking her and catching her up on the afterlife of her Orlando in the modern world.

Using minimal costume and sets, 25 trans and non-binary people aged between eight and 70 address the camera with tales of these latter-day Orlandos, from activists such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to ordinary trans people dealing with a contemporary, often transphobic world.

Preciado's film screened at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival, where it received the Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film, the highest honour for films about LGBTQ+ subjects. It has been applauded for its unique and experimental approach to exploring a less binary conception of sex and gender, grounded in the character of Woolf's novel. The various incarnations of Orlando in the film take on individual lives of their own, revealing the multiplicity of the character and the rich historical variation of trans and non-binary people across time. Like Woolf's narrative, the film follows the Orlandos on a journey into the present day, and gestures towards future generations.

Orlando, My Political Biography is Preciado's directorial feature debut, although he is well known for his philosophical writing, including his acclaimed memoir Testo Junkie (2008) and book-length essays including An Apartment On Uranus (2020) and Can The Monster Speak? (2021). His incisive writing has been hugely influential in the way that trans and non-binary identities are understood today, and are certainly worth exploring in relation to his new filmmaking practice.

Rather than getting bogged down in complex philosophical language, the film is simple in its bold, celebratory style. Scenes from Woolf's novel are staged beautifully, with stunning costumes and cinematography, as well as a striking, eclectic soundtrack.

It is a playful mode of adaptation, bringing out aspects of the narrative and its themes that one might not have noticed or considered before. Just as Woolf was experimenting with the form of the novel in works such as Mrs Dalloway and The Waves, Preciado refuses to allow easy classification of his enthralling film.

Orlando, My Political Biography is a manifesto for change. It declares not only that trans and non-binary people exist, but that they always have and always will. It calls for radical acceptance and inclusion, to push further than Woolf was able to, to create new art and new ways of seeing.  Lillian Crawford

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Orlando, My Political Biography is in cinemas from 5 July Book Here!