PRICK UP YOUR EARS is the tragic, true story of flamboyant British playwright Joe Orton, from his days as a drama student, through his meteoric rise to fame in British theatre, to his violent death at the hands of his envious lover Kenneth Halliwell. Gary Oldman portrays the rebellious Orton, who rose to success in the 1960s with his plays, LOOT and WHAT THE BUTLER SAW. Orton charmed theatrical society while living illegally as a homosexual, dangerously taking lovers and street hustlers, and living with his long-term collaborator Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) whose rage and envy prompted him to violently murder Orton in 1967.
This witty and moving portrait of Britain's daring and rebellious playwright, Joe Orton, is based on the true story of the tragic murder-suicide of Orton, at the hands of his long-term lover, Ken Haliwell, in the 1960s and the subsequent biography of the same name by New York drama critic John Lahr. PRICK UP YOUR EARS, skillfully directed by Stephen Frears, traces the outrageous life of the famed playwright, portrayed by Gary Oldman. Told through a series of flashbacks, the John Lahr character (Wallace Shawn) interviews Orton's literary agent (Vanessa Redgrave) and others, while weaving the memories and flashbacks from Orton's diaries into a cohesive biography, beginning and ending with the grisly murder. Escaping his lower class upbringing, Orton teamed up with an older ambitious writer, Ken Halliwell (Alfred Molina) at England's Royal Academy of Drama. But after years of close collaboration Orton took a chance and broke out on his own--skyrocketing to fame and fortune with such theatrical hits as LOOT and WHAT THE BUTLER SAW. Orton gregariously charmed Britain's press and theatre-going public, while living an illegal and sexually daring lifestyle. However, the competition and emotional rivalry between Halliwell and Orton took a toll on the lonely unsuccessful confidant. Dejected, in the shadows, and seething with jealousy, Halliwell finally cracked. Abruptly, tragically, he hammered Joe Orton to death in 1967 and took his own life immediately following the murder.
The title of the film is an allusion to the homosexuality of the main characters. "Ears" is an anagram of "arse." "I always wanted to be an orphan. I could have, if it wasn't for my parents."--Joe Orton (Gary Oldman), in voice over.
"...Gary Oldman [gives] a performance which stunningly walks that tightrope between our fascination and our mistrust..." - 03/01/1987 Sight and Sound, p.141-2
"...A fine film....[The] acting and script are excellent....PRICK OP YOUR EARS is thoughtfully stylized..." - 03/04/1987 Variety
"....A bracingly outrageous portrait....Stunningly well played by Gary Oldman..." - 05/01/1987 Los Angeles Times, p.C1
"Redgrave breathes air into every room she enters." - 07/09/2004 Entertainment Weekly, p.73
4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he 29-year-old Oldman could hardly have been better cast as the cocksure genius whose saucy farces turned the West End stage on its ear." - 05/01/2007 Total Film, p.42