Oscar winner Swinton

10 Most Versatile Tilda Swinton Performances

As the one-of-a-kind Oscar winner celebrates her birthday, Indiewire reflects on 10 of her most powerful roles.

"Edward II" (1991)

Derek Jarman's accomplished adaptation of the Christopher Marlowe play features Swinton at her most regal and commanding. Winner of the Best Actress Prize at the Venice Film Festival, Swinton is an emotional powerhouse as Queen Isabella, the rejected wife of King Edward II, who falls into a provocative mind game between her husband and his lover, Piers Gaveston. The three all harbor passionate desires, though mounting political threats force them to use one another as chess pieces in a royal game of power. As lovers become enemies and allies find themselves torn apart by affairs, Swinton expertly charts her character's journey with the nobility she deserves. Measured and reserved, Swinton always seems just seconds away from cracking her poised facade and revealing her scorned soul.

"Orlando" (1992)

Swinton's striking androgyny is one of her biggest strengths as an actress, and it has never been put to more piercing and dramatic use than in Sally Porter's ambitious adaptation of Virginia Woolf's "Orlando: A Biography." Like the novel, the film is a vast historical adventure that follows a poet who changes gender from man to woman across centuries, meeting key historical and literary figures and falling in and out of love. Swinton's shifting physical looks make her the quintessential performer for the role, though it's really the ways she manifests the emotional undertones of each gender that anchors her work here. Forced to act in certain ways and adhere to the gender standards of each evolving era, Swinton creates a character cursed by contradictions. Equal parts sensitive and abrasive, passionate and reserved, Swinton's "Orlando" performance might just be her very best.

"Broken Flowers" (2005)

Though ostensibly a Jim Jarmusch-driven vehicle for a forlorn Bill Murray, the real allure of "Broken Flowers" lies in the performances of its female characters. Following Don (Murray) as he sifts through past relationships in search of a son who may or may not exist, "Broken Flowers" visits four women with varying degrees of success: Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and finally, Tilda Swinton. Swinton’s Penny, in her oversized flannel and smudged eyeliner, is clearly unenthused to see Don, who greets him with nothing more than a question wrapped in an obscenity and ends his pilgrimage with a swift hook to the face. Though unquestionably in a supporting role, Swinton’s fun and peevish turn as a tough and totally-over-it ex is the kind of performance that proves her ability to make even a small part unforgettable.

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