Told in flashbacks which trace Orton and Halliwell's initial meeting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, when the older and more worldly Halliwell takes eighteen-year-old Orton as both a lover and a Protégé. Eventually Orton's writing career takes off, turning the power dynamic in their relationship on its head. Halliwell grows increasingly insecure and smothering as Orton grows more popular and successful, leading to an ultimately fatal downward spiral.
This film provides examples of the following tropes:
- The Beatles: Orton was commissioned to write a screenplay for one of their movies, but it never came to be. He also goes on a fairly detailed monologue about his particular interest in them, which veers off into Real-Person Fic territory.
- Bury Your Gays: Unfortunately, this is a case of Real Life Writes the Plot.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Orton's early experiments with self-pleasuring are detailed in his diary. The audience hears about them in the very plummy and cultured tones of John Lahr's mother in law.
- Establishing Character Moment: Halliwell's improvised scene with the "cat."
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- "Ears" is an anagram of "Arse."
- Orton also attempts to Get Crap Past the Radar in-universe by suggesting Ho Yay-laden scenes for his Beatles screenplay. The idea is unequivocally shot down by the band's manager Brian Epstein, in a scene played for maximum irony given that Epstein himself was also gay and was frequently the subject of rumors regarding his interest in the band members.
- Lover and Beloved: Halliwell and Orton, respectively, at the beginning of their relationship. Orton outgrowing the "beloved" role is the primary source of the film's conflict.
- Most Writers Are Writers: The film is structured as a book writer researching a playwright.