Prick Up Your Ears

prick up your earsThrilled to be reviewing an early film from Stephen Frears, one of my favorite directors. 1987’s Prick Up Your Ears written by Alan Bennett and based on John Lahr’s book focuses on 1960’s British playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell.  Orton wrote two hit plays – Entertaining Mr. Sloane and Loot. Gary Oldman stars as Joe, Alfred Molina as Kenneth, and Vanessa Redgrave as Peggy Ramsay, Joe’s theatrical agent. The entire film is told in flashback as the audience pieces together the reasons why Kenneth murdered Joe and committed suicide. The two were an out, bold couple in 1960’s Britain where homosexuality was illegal until 1967. They lived together and introduced each other as “friends,” a daring move for the time period even after the law was changed. From the film’s perspective, Orton latched on to Halliwell simply because he was the first gay man he met. Their romantic relationship lasted a few years after which Halliwell’s behavior became more and more erratic as Orton spent his time cruising public restrooms for sex on a daily basis, then journaling about his exploits which fueled his creativity. The film presents this information in a matter of fact way – revolutionary for 1987. Frears neither condones nor condemns. He simple tells the story of a relationship gone bad. Very bad. Kenneth’s creativity and career plummet as Joe’s star rises. Kenneth also spends his life feeling physically inferior to Joe and developing a bad habit of prescription drug abuse including antidepressants and Nembutal which he used to end his life. Prick Up Your Ears holds up beautifully after nearly 30 years. The build-up to Kenneth’s mental breakdown is a bit lopsided. Other than that, this is an outstanding film. It easily holds a place in LGBT cinematic history. Frears directed the film two years after My Beautiful Laundrette earning him a spot next to giants like Derek Jarman. Pretty progressive for a straight husband and father of two. Frears went on to create some of my favorite films including The Grifters, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things,Mrs. Henderson Presents and of course, The Queen. 4 out of 5 for the ahead of its time Prick Up Your Ears.


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