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a film by Stephen Frears.

1987 | 105 mins | UK.

the life and dramatic times of noted '60s playwright Joe Orton.

Dave says:

This now classic film for acclaimed British director Stephen Frears and celebrated screenwriter Alan Bennett documents the life and dramatic times of noted '60s playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) and his partner Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) from their first meeting at drama school, to their infamous imprisonment for defacement of public library books, a period that let Orton's creative spirit finally breathe, resulting in his breakthrough as a writer that ultimately would lead to his bloody death at the hands of his jealous lover.

Played through the eyes of and adapted from the words of Orton's official biographer John Lahr (Wallace Shawn) and delivered with an all-star cast, including a series of cameos from actors who would later become household names, it's the sheer volatile, yet captivating chemistry between the two protagonists that dominates this work, both as lovers and collaborators, only for one to end up making a career for himself by shocking audiences with his scintillating black comedies, much to the resentment of the other.

Only Orton's success was to be tragically cut short, the film for the main part set in the couple's downbeat flat, scenes of bleakness and hardship that upon Orton's success and financial gain, are strikingly juxtaposed with an extended holiday in Morocco, one that found Orton more than happy to make the acquaintance of the local boys, along the way writing the odd word or two. Yet ironically it was Orton's success as a playwright that would pave the way for his death, with Halliwell clearly envious of his partner's rising star status and here cue such titles as Entertaining Mr Sloane, Loot and What the Butler Saw, at a time when his career, for what it was, had hit a brick wall. That their devotion to each other had also hit the wall, goes without saying, with Orton reportedly wanting to end his relationship with Halliwell days before his murder, only unsure of how to do so.

As expected Oldman, later of Oscar-winning status, is outstanding in the role of Orton, relishing on his acid-tongued lines, seemingly seducing everyone with his seductive charm and working class wit. Yet his bravo performance is matched by Molina, who excels as a man with clear mental health issues, here pushed to breaking point. With solid support from Vanessa Redgrave as Orton's agent Peggy Ramsay, Lindsay Duncan as Anthea Lahr, to that of the likes of Julie Walters and Frances Barber respectively cast as Orton's cold-hearted mother and by contrast, his caring sister, this is but a classic of '80s gay cinema.

All of which makes for a wonderfully crafted dark, yet equally comical biopic that in realistically documenting the life and brutal death of John Kingsley Orton, is also a cinematic testament to the gay scene of the '60s, as Orton's rampant lust for casual sex and cottaging highlights the underground gay scene of the period, namely a time when homosexuality was not only still illegal in the eyes of the law, but still regarded by the public as a repugnant social taboo. Complete with a title, one that Orton himself had considered using, that is but a delightful play on words, the result is - simply wondrous.

›› check out the Official Trailer on YouTube.
›› posted: Friday, 14th May, 2021.

Gay Visibility - overt. 
Nudity - bare-arsed cheek. 
Overall - file under ... 5 stars. 

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