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Prick Up Your Ears

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 book by John Lahr. The film stars Gary Oldman as Orton, Alfred Molina as Halliwell, Wallace Shawn as Lahr and Vanessa Redgrave as Margaret "Peggy" Ramsay.

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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 by Orton's unwillingness, in 1960s England, to acknowledge having a male lover). 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, a despondent Halliwell kills Orton and commits suicide.

  While the film has enjoyed positive popular critique, there have been dissenting voices among scholars and the gay community. This has to do with the focus given to the death of Orton.

Prick Up Your EarsIn his book Because We're Queers (1989) Simon Shepherd refers to how biographer John Lahr was besotted with the death, and that is reproduced in the film - the film beginning with that event.

Furthermore, the film's inclusion of Lahr as a character would seem not so much to raise the question of the 'construction' of the Orton myth but to reinforce Lahr's role in constructng such a myth. Ironically, Lahr's research into the difficulties of Orton and Halliwell's "marriage" are supposed to be offset against the film's image of his own long-suffering and effectively silenced typist-wife. Shepherd argues that the film is clearly part of the "Orton industry" because it cannot free itself of the Lahr-viewpoint.

Furthermore, the casting of Redgrave in the role of Ramsey offers the impression of an open-minded and independent woman - endorsed by Redgrave being well known for her radical leftist political views - yet in Orton's own diaries she is portrayed as being "bitchy" about Halliwell and not always favourably regarded by Orton.


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