Elvis lived an eccentric yet often complicated and sad life.
His music, story and legacy have been the subject of countless films, TV series, books and podcasts for years. However, in the shuffle of Elvis-related media, Priscilla, The King of Rock and Roll’s wife, rarely gets the spotlight.
Now, in 2024, director Sofia Coppola, daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, makes the shift by making Elvis the supporting act and giving Priscilla time to shine.
It is important to note that for those who are expecting another Elvis biopic, this isn’t it. This is the story of Priscilla Beaulieu from the moment she met Elvis in 1959 to their eventual divorce in 1973.
The film isn’t a beat-for-beat, play-by-play of the couple’s lives together but a character study of a woman who spends her early life grappling with the challenges of being the spouse of the most famous man on earth.
Priscilla is a unique film. It isn’t afraid to show that the people the film is based on aren’t the saints you may believe they are. This is a testament to the director, Sofia Coppola. Her directing style often means her films have huge grey areas, meaning nothing is as simple or as easy as the viewer may initially think.
In this film’s case, Priscilla is 14 when she first meets 24-year-old Elvis. As a viewer, we see the problem here, but the characters don’t. It makes it tricky to watch. The viewers know that she is young and naïve to Presley’s often manipulative nature, but it is also clear that the pair are infatuated with each other.
Lead actress Cailee Spaeny perfectly captures this confusion. Her perspective is why this film feels fresh, even though the last major Elvis film is not even two years old. Her viewpoint of seeing a man she was obsessed with slowly transform into a pathetic shell of her former lover is much more engaging than the Baz Lurhman film in 2022. Priscilla’s growth from a lovesick teenager to the powerful woman she is today is brilliant, which is undoubtedly due to Spaeny’s performance.
For a film like this to work, the character of Elvis must have both his extremes, King of Rock and Roll and defeated manipulative drug addict, appropriately depicted.
In Priscilla’s case, Aussie actor Jacob Elordi captures both tones brilliantly, even better than Austin Butler. As in Euphoria, Elordi portrays a character whose persona may come across as confident and unwavering but, under the surface, is a fragile, weak-willed mess.
The pair’s relationship is this film’s entire plot, and Spaeny and Elordi bring their A-games. It makes the film engaging yet challenging, a growing staple of films produced by A24. While the film is nowhere near as fun as previous Elvis films, with little to no care about his discography, that’s not what this film is; instead, it is a peek behind the curtain as to what living with Elvis was like and how difficult living with superstardom can be.
This film isn’t flashy, it isn’t larger than life, and it isn’t a sing-along, but it is a personal story of a woman who went through many challenges and learnt how to grow while being bound to the most famous man in the world.
Priscilla is a brilliant biopic and one I recommend for viewers looking for a realistic take on one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century, not a two-hour music video.