• Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

Review: Priscilla

ByFlorence O'Neill

Mar 2, 2024
Elvis and Priscilla Presley at their wedding

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warning: mentions of sexual assault and abuse

With the mixed reviews of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis (half regarding his creative style and the other half about the real and important problems surrounding Elvis’s career), we needed a film from the woman who knew him, the girl he fell in love with, and perhaps the only one who can really attest for the person that Elvis really was, Priscilla.

I have been a Coppola stan from the moment I watched Marie Antionette and have loved all her films since. She presents childhood innocence in such a fresh, accessible way, and she was the perfect choice to bring Priscilla’s story to life. I have a lot of respect for Coppola for creating this film about a real person’s life— her experiences and her traumas— in such a respectful way while simultaneously showing how (and with no disrespect to Priscilla) problematic and quite frankly creepy their relationship truly was. I think it is so important when criticizing their relationship to remember that, while we have to discuss the issues facing their relationship, we have to remember that this is the story of events that happened to a real woman, who is still alive today.

As most people are, I was aware of some of the issue surrounding Elvis’ image, but I had no idea just how problematic his relationship with Priscilla was. They met when she was in the 9th grade (14 years old) and he was 24, starting their relationship soon after meeting. In the film, which follows the story Priscilla wrote herself tilted Elvis and Me, the couple don’t have sex until after they are married when Priscilla is 21 years old, yet they are shown to kiss and share the same bed. The film itself shows Priscilla’s experience of Elvis as being a manipulative and a controlling partner, telling her how to dress, keeping her in the house, and not allowing her to live her life in anyway other than how he wishes her to. The portrayal of their age difference is so uncomfortable, and we see the childlike infatuation that young Priscilla has with the powerful rockstar. Their height difference in the film further demonstrates the age gap and power imbalance between the two characters; this emphasis reminds us of her youthful and callow self. She waits for him, patiently, and he strings her childhood self along for years until he feels as though he can have her. But he did love her.

The movie is incredibly intimate but unreachable. We feel as though there is so much we see of their relationship, but, at the same time, not enough. I think this is so important in the sense of biography. Defining what makes a biography is difficult; it is often interpreted as the detailed story of a life, but it is impossible to recount and retell everything. The film solely focuses on their relationship, yet it feels like we have only see glimpses of it. 

We see towards the end of the film, and this is something more thoroughly discussed in Priscilla’s book Elvis and Me, that he sexually assaulted her towards the end of their marriage. However, their relationship from the start was extremely problematic and undeniably abusive, and the film represents this subtly. This can even be conveyed in the different settings of the house. The ‘living space’ is filled with light and pastel colours, where, in contrast, the bedroom is filled with darker shades. There is this idea of the showmanship of their marriage and what people see versus that of the truth, and the landscape of the film fulfils this divide.

In Wendy Ide’s review of Priscilla in The Guardian, she describes Coppola as an ‘distinctly empathetic observer’ which is exactly what is required from a story about a life, especially one where the protagonist is still alive. I believe Coppola did a great job in bringing Priscilla’s story to life in a real and respectful manner.

Elvis and Priscilla Presley, Aladdin, 1967” by danperry.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.