Prick Up Your Ears

This article is about the film. For the episode of Family Guy, see Prick Up Your Ears (Family Guy). For the stage play, see Prick Up Your Ears (play).
Prick Up Your Ears

UK release poster
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Book:
John Lahr
Alan Bennett
Cinematography Oliver Stapleton
Civilhand (UK)
Zentith Entertainment (UK)
Distributed by Curzon Film Distrutors (UK)
The Samuel Goldwyn Company (US)
Release dates
  • 17 April 1987 (1987-04-17)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $1,654,743[1]

Prick Up Your Ears is a 1987 film, directed by Stephen Frears, about the playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell. The screenplay was written by Alan Bennett, based on the biography by John Lahr. The film stars Gary Oldman as Orton, Alfred Molina as Halliwell, Wallace Shawn as Lahr and Vanessa Redgrave as Peggy Ramsay.


The film tells the story of Orton and Halliwell in flashback, framed by sequences of Lahr researching the book upon which the film is based with Orton's literary agent, Peggy Ramsay. Orton and Halliwell's relationship is traced from its beginnings at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Orton starts out as the uneducated youth to Halliwell's older faux-sophisticate. As the relationship progresses, however, Orton grows increasingly confident in his talent while Halliwell's writing stagnates. They fall into a parody of a traditional married couple, with Orton as the "husband" and Halliwell as the long-suffering and increasingly ignored "wife" (a situation exacerbated at a time when being a sexually active homosexual was illegal). Orton is commissioned to write a screenplay for the Beatles and Halliwell gets carried away in preparing for a meeting with the "Fab Four", but in the end Orton is taken away for a meeting on his own. Finally, in August 1967, a despondent Halliwell kills Orton and commits suicide.



Prick Up Your Ears received a generally positive critical reaction. Roger Ebert awarded the film four stars out of four, describing Redgrave's performance as "superb", and praising the work of Oldman and Molina: "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." On the basis of Oldman's work in the film and the previous year's Sid and Nancy, Ebert described him as "the best young British actor around."[2] Ken Hanke of the Mountain Xpress was less impressed, describing the film as a "good, but never quite great biopic", while still awarding it four stars out of five.[3]

Oldman earned a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actor; Redgrave received BAFTA- and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Alan Bennett earned a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film won the award for Best Artistic Contribution at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.[4] The film has a 92% "fresh" rating at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[3]


  1. "Prick Up Your Ears (1987)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  2. Prick Up Your Ears review. Chicago Sun-Times. 8 May 1987. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  3. 1 2 "Prick Up Your Ears (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  4. "Festival de Cannes: Prick Up Your Ears". Retrieved 19 July 2009.
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