‘Priscilla’ - The King’s Queen

"Priscilla" via IMDb.

The ongoing biopic craze shows no signs of slowing down or stopping. In 2023, movies about Bayard Rustin, Diana Nyad, and Leonard Bernstein, are among the offerings (and of special interest to LGBTQ viewers). 

In many ways, filmmaker Sofia Coppola was the exact right person to write and direct “Priscilla” (A24), the movie adaptation of Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me.” After all, her cousin Nicolas Cage was married to Priscilla and Elvis’ daughter, the late Lisa Marie. Coppola is also married to a rock musician (Thomas Mars of the band Phoenix), so she has some insight into that world.

In 1959, 14-year-old Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) was living on a U.S. Army base in West Germany with her mother Ann (Dagmara Domińczyk) and her stepfather, the Captain (Ari Cohen). This was during the time that Elvis Presley (gorgeous Jacob Elordi, who will likely make you forget all about Austin Butler) was also serving in the army as an enlistee and was stationed in West Germany.

By this time, Elvis was already an established music superstar. But in many ways, he was still just a socially awkward 24-year-old. When he’s introduced to Priscilla by Terry (Luke Humphrey), another soldier, there is an instant connection between them. Conscious of the 10-year age difference, especially when she is 14, and he is 24, Elvis courts Priscilla. Respectful of her parents’ concerns, Elvis puts the gentle into gentleman, and never takes advantage of Priscilla sexually. 

Instead, he grooms (an accurate use of the word, for the Christianist readers) the formless Priscilla, essentially molding her into – in the immortal words of Zaza – his “own special creation.” In addition to greatly improving her wardrobe and personal style, he teaches her how to interact in social situations. He is as concerned about her education as he is about her virginity. He also manages to get her hooked on speed. 

But we never doubt for a moment that Elvis loves Priscilla, and the feeling is mutual. Even as Priscilla suffers during their separations (this is during the period that Elvis’ movie career was going great guns) and must endure the endless stream of movie magazine gossip about Elvis’ romantic entanglements with his co-stars. He denies he is being unfaithful, even though he does, in fact, have affairs.

Engaged in 1966 (when Priscilla was 21), married in 1967, and the proud parents of Lisa Marie in 1968, cracks were already beginning to show in their relationship; fueled mainly by Elvis’ drug abuse (and we all know how that turned out for him). By the time Priscilla leaves Elvis (they divorced in 1973), to the strains of Dolly Parton singing “I Will Always Love You,” the ex-Mrs. Presley has lived more lives than the average 28-year-old.

Coppola brings a distinctly indie energy to the project, which isn’t all that surprising for anyone familiar with her work. Spaeny and Elordi hold their own, considering the challenges of portraying such legendary figures. 

Rating: B-


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