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Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

R | | Biography, Drama | 8 May 1987 (USA)
Biographer John Lahr is writing a book about playwright Joe Orton. Joe and Kenneth meet at drama school and live together for ten years as lovers and collaborators. Both want to be writers, but only one of them is successful.


Stephen Frears


John Lahr (based on the biography by), Alan Bennett (screenplay)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 5 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Gary Oldman ... Joe Orton
Alfred Molina ... Kenneth Halliwell
Vanessa Redgrave ... Peggy Ramsay
Wallace Shawn ... John Lahr
Lindsay Duncan ... Anthea Lahr
Julie Walters ... Elsie Orton
James Grant James Grant ... William Orton
Frances Barber ... Leonie Orton
Janet Dale Janet Dale ... Mrs Sugden
Dave Atkins Dave Atkins ... Mr Sugden
Margaret Tyzack ... Madame Lambert
Eric Richard ... Education Officer
William Job William Job ... RADA Chairman
Rosalind Knight ... RADA Judge
Angus MacKay Angus MacKay ... RADA Judge

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This movie is the story of the spectacular life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman). In his teens, Orton is befriended by the older, more reserved Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina), 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 environments. 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 <slug@mail.utexas.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


They shared everything - except success.


Biography | Drama


R | See all certifications »

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Did You Know?


Theatrical movie debut of Steven Mackintosh (Simon Ward). 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. New pence weren't introduced until 1971. However, in the pre-decimal era, "Three pounds ten" would have been understood as "Three pounds and ten shillings", the present-day equivalent being £3.50. For example, "Maggie Mae", recorded by the Beatles in 1969 but based on a much older traditional song, includes the line "Two pounds ten a week, that was my pay." See more »


Brian Epstein: [discussing Joe's screenplay for a movie starring The Beatles] If the boys are all in bed with Susan, this means, as I understand it, that they are all in bed with each other. No, no, no, no, no, no.
Joe Orton: Why?
Brian Epstein: Why? Because these are normal, healthy boys.
Joe Orton: I take it they all sleep together.
Brian Epstein: They do not.
Joe Orton: Oh, they're all very pretty. I imagined they just had a good time. Sang, smoked, fucked everything in sight, including each other. I thought that was what success meant.
Brian Epstein: Mr. Orton, success means... well, it ...
See more »


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Music by M. Kansara
De Wolfe Music Ltd
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User Reviews

The Writer, The First Wife, The Widow
29 May 2010 | by ChrysanthepopSee all my reviews

Director Stephen Frears has often picked up interesting subjects for his films. 'Prick Up Your Ears' is based on the relationship between famous writer Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. Set in the 60s, this was during the time when 'being gay' in public was considered a criminal offense in parts of UK. Joe Orton is confident, talented, mellow and liked by everyone while his partner Halliwell is comparatively shy and distant and resentful of Joe's success as he claims to be the man behind his partner's success and complains about not receiving enough credit for it.

Frears depicts the relationship quite sensibly. There is almost always a conflict or a disagreement in Orton and Halliwell's sequences but the love is always apparent. While Kenneth's insecurity worsens as Joe climbs every step up towards success, Joe always stands by him. The viewer is also given brief glimpses of Joe's relationship with his mother, sister and confidant Peggy. The depiction of the 60's gay culture is also intriguing.

The execution isn't first rate as the cinematography is flat and the editing leaves a lot to be desired. The pacing is very slow. The lighting could have used some improvement.

The acting is superb. Gary Oldman is spellbinding as Joe Orton. Even though he is more commonly known for his villainous roles, movies like these prove what a versatile actor he is. Alfred Molina is brilliant as Kenneth. A foxy Julie Walters makes her presence felt in a limited role. Vanessa Redgrave is remarkable in a brief but memorable role.

'Prick Up Your Ears' is an interesting psychological character study and true crime drama. In addition to the wonderful performances, the writing is first rate, especially the witty dialogues loaded with humour. The movie ends on a note of leaving the viewer to wonder what would have become of Orton's life had he still lived. Here was a man who had everything going for him...except one thing that ended his life.

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Release Date:

8 May 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Prick Up Your Ears See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$38,643, 19 April 1987

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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