Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, Vanessa Redgrave, Wallace Shawn, Lindsay Duncan, Julie Walters, James Grant, Frances Barber, Janet Dale, Dave Atkins, Margaret Tyzack
Written by: Alan Bennett, based on a book by John Lahr
Directed by: Stephen Frears
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 105
Date: 05/08/1987

Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Law and Orton

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Stephen Frears' Prick Up Your Ears is still one of the better examples of a filmed biopic, focusing on one dramatic aspect of a famous person's life, rather than a cradle-to-grave compressing of an entire existence. Rebellious, swaggering playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) shocked audiences with his plays during his brief 34 years, but this movie focuses mainly on his long-term relationship with Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina), who was seemingly his polar opposite, fastidious and dissatisfied. (Both performances are excellent.) Orton did what he wanted, and took lovers on the side, but he and Kenneth lived together, fought, and were seemingly inseparable. Screenwriter Alan Bennett and director Frears don't shy away from the domestic details (rare and courageous, I might add, for 1987), and they create a vivid, prickly, and sometimes funny relationship. Wallace Shawn plays a present day writer who is researching Orton after his death, and Vanessa Redgrave plays Orton's agent. On their TV show, Siskel and Ebert both chose this as one of the year's ten best films. Olive Films released it on Blu-ray in 2015.

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