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Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

R  |   |  Biography, Drama  |  8 May 1987 (USA)
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This film is the story of the spectacular life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton. In his teens, Orton is befriended by the older, more reserved Kenneth Halliwell, and while ... See full summary »



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Title: Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 7 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Peggy Ramsay
John Lahr
Anthea Lahr
Elsie Orton
James Grant ...
William Orton
Leonie Orton
Janet Dale ...
Mrs Sugden
Dave Atkins ...
Mr Sugden
Madame Lambert
Eric Richard ...
Education Officer
William Job ...
RADA Chairman
Rosalind Knight ...
RADA Judge
Angus MacKay ...
RADA Judge


This film is the story of the spectacular life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton. In his teens, Orton is befriended by the older, more reserved Kenneth Halliwell, and while the two begin a relationship, it's fairly obvious that it's not all about sex. Orton loves the dangers of bath-houses and liaisons in public restrooms; Halliwell, not as charming or attractive as Orton, doesn't fare so well in those environs. While both long to become writers, it is Orton who achieves fame - his plays "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" and "Loot" become huge hits in London of the sixties, and he's even commissioned to write a screenplay for the Beatles. But Orton's success takes him farther from Halliwell, whose response ended both his life and the life of the up-and-coming playwright. Written by Gary Dickerson <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

playwright | writer | sex | death | love | See All (255) »


They shared everything - except success.


Biography | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

8 May 1987 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ciuliti-va urechile  »

Box Office


$1,654,743 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The title is a naughty pun ("Prick" having both standard and off-color denotations and "Ears" being an anagram for the British spelling of a vulgar anatomical descriptor). See more »


When Joe's agent first meets him in 1964, she asks him how he's been supporting himself. He tells her he's on public assistance, getting £3.10 per week. But new pence weren't introduced until 1971. See more »


Joe Orton: Have you been reading my diary?
Kenneth Halliwell: No.
Joe Orton: Why not? I would.
See more »


References My Favorite Brunette (1947) See more »


Dancing Hearts
Music by Stanley Myers
Lyrics by Richard Myhill
Arranged by Richard Myhill
See more »

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User Reviews

"What do you expect? Many of them are Australians"
29 June 2004 | by (London) – See all my reviews

Although in some ways more theatrical/televisual than cinematic, this is one of the best British films of the 80's, and is probably Alan Bennett's most successful screenplay. Bennett and Orton have a number of things in common - a love of "found" dialogue (here mainly given to Orton's landlady) - theatrical success in the 60's (Bennett in "Beyond the Fringe") - and of course their sexuality.

The film is quite interesting in what it leaves out - anyone who has read Orton's diaries will know that "the latter part" is rather underplayed here. Also sadly missed is "Mrs Edna Welthorpe" an alter ego of Joe's who would write to newspapers denouncing his plays as filth - a rather cunning way of securing free advertising. A very interesting telephone conversation with Brian Epstein " of the boys is happily married..." plays with what we now know about Epstein and Lennon in a beautifully understated way.

Orton and Halliwell's relationship is counterpointed in the film by "John Lahr"'s own marriage (Wallace Shawn is great here too, as always) as Lahr's researching of his biography acts as a framing device for Orton's story. As others have commented, the dynamic of the central relationship rings horribly true to anyone who has been in a halfway similar situation.

It's interesting to speculate on what would have become of Orton had he lived. Time has dimmed the shock value of his plays to the point where they will probably never have the same effect, and despite various rumours (the Sex Pistols?) no-one has picked up the Beatles script, probably for the same reason. Live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse? Perhaps.

13 of 16 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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