Sam Adams
July 09, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Prick Up Your Ears

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
performer
Alfred Molina, Gary Oldman, Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Walters
director
Stephen Frears
genre
Gay and Lesbian, Drama

We gave it a B-

In this wry and occasionally glum biopic, British playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) cracks jokes at his mother’s funeral and then cruises an undertaker. Adapted from John Lahr’s biography, Stephen Frears’ film, Prick Up Your Ears, goes a long way toward explaining why, at the height of his fame, Orton was beaten to death by Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina), a frustrated artist who viewed himself, romantically and professionally, as Orton’s uncredited partner. What it doesn’t reflect is the anarchic wit behind Orton’s plays ”Loot” and ”What the Butler Saw” — although he and Halliwell do have a madcap moment consummating their relationship while the Queen’s coronation plays on TV. As Orton’s literary agent and self-appointed ”widow,” Vanessa Redgrave breathes air into every room she enters. The rest of the movie — dragged down by visual murk and a portentous score — could use her swinging-London insouciance. The only EXTRA is a theatrical trailer.

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