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Blu-ray Review Prick Up Your Ears Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

Senior HTF Member
Apr 24, 2006
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough
Prick Up Your Ears Blu-ray Review

Joe Orton was the bad boy playwright of swinging 1960’s London. Coming from a blue collar background and with little formal education in literature or composition (his degree was in stenography), Orton’s irreverent spirit and risk-taking writing took London by storm with two back-to-back hit plays. But his private life was complicated and wildly unorthodox, and Stephen Frears’ Prick Up Your Ears captures the personal side of his life with the kind of attention to character, time, and place that makes it one of the very best movie biographies of the period.

Studio: MGM

Distributed By: Olive

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA

Subtitles: None

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 Hr. 50 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray

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Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)

Region: All

Release Date: 09/22/2015

MSRP: $29.95

The Production Rating: 4.5/5

The screenplay by Alan Bennett doesn’t take a linear approach to the storytelling at all, beginning with the discovery of Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) and his longtime companion Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) in their Islington flat and then skipping ahead almost twenty years to Joe’s agent Peggy Ramsay (Vanessa Redgrave) making a decision to share Joe’s intimate diaries with writer John Lahr (Wallace Shawn) who is interested in writing Orton’s biography. As Lahr begins working, we travel back to the young Joe wanting to be an actor, seeking lessons from elocution teacher Madame Lambert (Margaret Tyzack) and then being selected for studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts where he meets Halliwell, who has formal education in the classics and is a budding novelist. From there, we skip through their ten-year period together where under Ken’s tutelage, Joe’s writing flourishes, he lands jobs writing radio plays that get him an agent who then encourages him to write for the stage. All the while, Ken’s work dissipates and he becomes sullen and both psychologically dependent and dangerously indignant about Joe’s rocketing fame and popularity.


But the playwriting aspect of Joe’s life takes up very little of the film’s nearly two-hour running time. Screenwriter Bennett and director Frears are much more interested in examining Joe’s randy and nearly insatiable sex life and the deterioration between the partners once one achieves the success the other feels that he deserves. Acknowledging that Joe liked risky sexual encounters with men in the open or in public toilets (which Ken reluctantly joined in occasionally), Frears takes his camera quite often on Joe’s nightly escapades capturing the danger and excitement for him of potential arrest and disgrace (homosexuality was a punishable offense in England at the time) while tastefully leaving most of the activities going on there to one’s imagination. There is a lengthy sequence near the end where Joe and Ken head off on a Moroccan vacation that has an almost farcical framework setting the montage to the jaunty “By the Beautiful Sea” song and speeding up the action to make it almost like a silent movie. The idyll is interrupted, of course, when Ken catches Joe working on a new project and angrily tosses the typewriter off the roof of their hotel, dolefully setting up the film’s grim finale, quite a turnaround from earlier scenes where the pair delight in defacing public library books and snipping out pictures and illustrations making collages to adorn the walls of their small flat (an act that earned them six months in jail: a badge of pride for Joe).


Both leading actors Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina approach these fascinating and complex characters fearlessly, open to any and all of the vivid sexual experimentation Joe reveled in and which Ken tried for a time to be a dutiful pupil (they also both greatly resemble the people they’re playing). Oldman displays even this early in his career the charisma that was necessary to portray the mischievous media darling of his era while Molina’s portrait of a promising talent lost to jealousy and self-loathing is alternately humorous (he’s actually quite witty throughout) and horrifying. Vanessa Redgrave gives a smooth-as-silk performance as Orton’s champion Peggy Ramsay: wonderfully appealing, compassionate, and ultra-sophisticated. Julie Walters does well as Joe’s mother Elsie, and Wallace Shawn and Lindsay Duncan as the Lahrs who are writing the biography do fine in rather reserved parts. It's always great to see Margaret Tyzack even in a small role, and Janet Dale is very entertaining as the boys’ landlady Mrs. Sugden who sees only the glamor of Joe’s current life of fame and fortune and none of the tumult that’s happening behind closed doors.

Video Rating: 3.5/5  3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is captured faithfully in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is never razor-edged but just a tad above average while color values are fine if a trifle dated looking in some scenes. Skin tones are very realistic. With many scenes happening at night or in dark public facilities, black levels are sometimes a bit disappointing with milky black levels and some details lost in the shadows. Contrast has been consistently applied, however, and the film is artifact free. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio Rating: 4/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is more than adequate for a lower budget film of this era. Dialogue is always beautifully captured and presented, and the background score by Stanley Myers and the sound effects appropriate to the era work in harmony together to make for a very good mono presentation. No age-related problems mar the listening experience either.

Special Features Rating: 1/5

Theatrical Trailer (1:45, HD)

Overall Rating: 4/5

Prick Up Your Ears is one of the strongest if less heralded film biographies made during the latter part of the 20th century. It features fantastic performances and wonderfully solid and confident direction by Stephen Frears. While the Blu-ray is only a modest upgrade in quality to the previously released DVD, those interested in the film should be pleased to find it in wonderful shape.

Reviewed By: Matt Hough

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Senior HTF Member
Jan 6, 1999
Real Name
Thanks the review, Matt. This is a film I only have vague recollections of. You make it sound better than I remember it being, but I also did not like how dark it was. I have less aversion to now than in the years when I wanted everything to be fun and happy.

I will post a link to this review in the HTF thread for LGBT-friendly films.


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