“PRICK UP YOUR EARS”
What a Way to Go
“Prick Up Your Ears” is a gem of a movie. It tells the true story of English playwright Joe Orton and his homosexual relationship with his talented but not so successful partner, Kenneth Halliwell. It is a solid drama and most amazing is that it is some forty years old.
Joe Orton was a daring and rebellious writer. Told through flashbacks, Orton’s literary agent, played wonderful by the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave, relates her memories and reads entries from Orton’s diary, beginning and ending with his horrible murder.
Born into the lower class, Orton (Gary Oldman) teamed up with an ambitious writer, Halliwell (Alfred Molina) at the Royal Academy of Drama in England,. They collaborated for years and when Orton broke out on his own, fame bit him on the neck. His plays include “loot” and “What the Butler Saw” and the charmed the critics and the public with his black comedies. At the same time he was living in a homosexual relationship which, back then, was illegal. He was also extremely sexually adventurous. The competition between he and hi s lover heightened and Halliwell dejected, feeling rejected, and very jealous hammered Orton to death in 1967 and took his own life immediately afterwards.
It was not only success and talent that brought Orton fame. His personal charisma and luck also helped. The two men, who seemed to be talented equally were split apart when one of the pair became an award winning playwright and the other had no luck whatsoever.
Orton’s death in 1976 caused quite a stir not only by the way he dies but by the fact that the nature of his relationship with Halliwell was revealed to the public. It was Halliwell that seduced Orton when they were students and it was Halliwell who was more imaginative but a bit disturbed. After the two had begun their relationship each spent half a year in prison for defacing library books and while there Orton‘s agent discovered his talent and guided him to success while Halliwell stayed behind in the shadows of his lover.
The acting in the movie is far above anything else dealing with homosexuality at the period in which it was made. In many cases, it is far above what we see today. The script is brilliant and it is very sad that the movie did not get the exposure it deserved. At times it is very raw and the death of Orton is shocking as we watch it from beginning to end. As is typical of so many British movies, it is literate and beautifully acted and photographed. Were it to be re-released today, I am sure it would find its rightful audiences and acting prizes would be handed out to the entire cast.