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Prick Up Your Ears (1987)


Average Rating: 7.5/10
Reviews Counted: 25
Fresh: 23
Rotten: 2

Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.

Average Rating: 7.5/10
Reviews Counted: 6
Fresh: 4
Rotten: 2

Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.


Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 4,300



Movie Info

This unadorned biography of playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) charts his bawdy, dangerous relationships. Alfred Molina plays Orton's brutish lover, Kenneth Halliwell, a pathetic figure who becomes horrific and then tragic before the film is over. The hilarity of scenes from such Orton plays as +Loot and +What the Butler Saw is evenly balanced by the bleakness of the playwright's tormented (and tormenting) off-stage existence, which ended suddenly at age 34 with half a dozen blows to the head … More

Drama , Art House & International , Comedy
Directed By:
Written By:
John Lahr , Alan Bennett
In Theaters:
Jun 15, 2004
Curzon Film Distributors


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Critic Reviews for Prick Up Your Ears

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (23) | Rotten (2) | DVD (5)

Gary Oldman is excellent as Orton, right down to remarkable resemblance, while Alfred Molina creates both an amusing and tormented Halliwell. Vanessa Redgrave takes top honors, though, as a compassionate and benign agent.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

Oldman is brilliant; Molina's Halliwell less subtle; and the film's dissection of cottaging quaintly amusing.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The film covers the main events of the Orton life in a manner that is nothing less than distracted. One has little understanding of the fatal intensity - and need - that kept Orton and Halliwell together.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

The great performances in the movie are, of course, at its center. Gary Oldman plays Orton and Alfred Molina plays Halliwell, and these are two of the best performances of the year.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

The filmmakers have shown great intellectual taste. But it's not the kind of taste that's illuminating.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

Like "Casablanca," "Diva," "Clockwork Orange" and countless other quality-cult films, "Prick Up Your Ears" has an indefinable idiosyncrasy that makes you want to come back for more.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

A brilliant and painfully raw portrait of a troubled, a tragic relationship.

Full Review… | August 20, 2012

Oldman, fresh from his triumph as Sex Pistol Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, is the key and holds it all together.

Full Review… | August 20, 2012
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Molina stares down all clichés, veering away from effeminate tones when they would be most convenient and avoids trapping Ken into a brooding madman.

Full Review… | November 16, 2009

Stands up extraordinarily well: mostly because of two outstanding central performances, Gary Oldman as the talented, blase Orton, and Alfred Molina as his thwarted, Hancock-esque murderer Kenneth Halliwell.

Full Review… | April 7, 2007

A decent snapshot of pre-Beatle Britain, this is much more a fact-based gay melodrama than a trenchant portrait of Joe Orton's life, loves and art.

Full Review… | April 6, 2007
Empire Magazine

It is repetitive at times, occasionally lagging, but the performances by Oldman and especially Molina simply demand your attention.

Full Review… | April 3, 2007

Offers a creative portrait of playwright Joe Orton's life and death.

Full Review… | August 27, 2004
Spirituality and Practice

Powerful look at the tragic death of Joe Orton, with excellent performances

March 18, 2004
Kalamazoo Gazette

Good, but never quite great biopic of Joe Orton

August 22, 2002
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

On one level a searing bio of Britain's most gifted playwright; on another, a harrowing portrait of fatal jealousy and love gone bad. Alfred Molina is mesmerizing.

August 4, 2002
Tyler Morning Telegraph (Texas)

This is a solid dramatic film and one of the year's best.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000

Audience Reviews for Prick Up Your Ears


[font=Century Gothic][color=darkred]"Revengers Tragedy" is a movie based on the 17th century play by Thomas Middleton. In this version, it is updated to Liverpool in the near future where Vendici(Christopher Eccleston) is returning after a period of absence. He is back to swear vengeance against The Duke(Derek Jacobi, who does not have a lot to do), after he killed Vendici's bride in retaliation for her not wanting to have sex with him.(A good deal of this movie is taken up with men defending the honor of women. I can understand this happening in the 17th century but it's not likely for the present or anytime in the near future.) Other faults include the movie missing chances to have anything to say about 1) the nature of revenge and 2) the class structure.(The Duke is evil but Lord Antonio seems like a pretty alright guy.) But it is imaginatively staged with computer effects and is well acted especially by Christopher Eccleston and Eddie Izzard.[/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=#8b0000][/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=darkslateblue]"Prick Up Your Ears" is based on the lives and tempestual relationship of playwright Joe Orton(Gary Oldman) and Kenneth Halliwell(Alfred Molina). Orton's role in life seemed to be wreaking playful havoc in the straitlaced society of 50's and 60's Britain, from defacing library books to anonymous sex in lavatories. The movie is witty and engaging. It gives great insight into the characters and their love for each other. Both Oldman and Molina do a great job. And it's a joy watching Wallace Shawn and Vanessa Redgrave act together.[/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=darkslateblue][/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=darkslateblue](Very strange literary note: Alfred Molina invokes T.S. Eliot in "Prick Up Your Ears." He would do so again in "Spider Man 2.") [/color][/font]

Walter M.

Super Reviewer


I felt the film could have explored more of the brief career of Joe Orton because the film tends to brush over those parts a bit. However the performances of Oldman and Molina are amazing. Its too bad the film was released in 1987, because if it was done now I think the content wouldn't have made people ignore it.

Alec Barniskis
Alec Barniskis

Super Reviewer


Good little film about the life of Joe Orton. Alfred Molina is great as his lover Kenneth Halliwell. Plus an excellent script by Alan Bennet.

Emily B.

Super Reviewer

Prick Up Your Ears Quotes

Joe Orton:
I always wanted to be an orphan. I could have, if it wasn't for my parents.
– Submitted by Rob M (2 years ago)
Peggy Ramsay:
Ken was the first wife. He did all the work and the waiting and then...
John Lahr:
Well, first wives don't usually beat their husbands' heads in.
Peggy Ramsay:
No. Though why I can't think.
John Lahr:
So what does that make you? The second wife?
Peggy Ramsay:
Better than that, dear. The widow.
– Submitted by David F (3 years ago)

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