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Priscilla - Film

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 19 / 1 / 2024

Priscilla - Film


Nick Dent-Robinson finds Sofia Coppola’s new film ‘Priscilla’ about the relationship and marriage of Priscilla and Elvis Presley uncomfortable viewing.

Sofia Coppola's new film ‘Priscilla’ will be disappointing for many hard-core Elvis fans. The action begins in West Germany back in 1959 where Elvis, like Priscilla's stepfather, is stationed with the US military. One of Elvis's hangers-on (the star's military career was far from normal - he lived in some luxury and still had assistants at his disposal) spots Priscilla (very well played by Cailee Spaeny) sipping a Coke at a cafe counter. He promptly invites the attractive 14 year-old to a party at Elvis's home. To 21st Century eyes this inevitably looks like the sexual procurement of a minor – and when Elvis (played by a well-cast Jacob Elordi) is evidently entranced and promptly invites Priscilla upstairs and asks her the rhetorical question, “Where have you been all my life?”, it is very tempting to murmur back, “Not born for almost half of it.” But Elvis seems undaunted by Priscilla's extremely tender years. Almost immediately, inexplicably, Elvis starts to sob to her about his acute homesickness and the recent death of his mother. Yet all Piscilla has done so far is to smile sweetly. However, to have this giant of American rock giving her so much attention and sharing his confidences does rapidly touch the young Priscilla's heart. According to the film and Priscilla's own 1985 memoir ‘Elvis and Me’ on which the film is largely based, Elvis absolutely refused to engage in any sexual activity with Priscilla until they married seven years later when Priscilla was 21. Even when she reached the age of consent (which varies in different states in the USA), Elvis allegedly insisted that Priscilla's virginity remained sacred to him. Maybe some in the audience will see this old-school gentlemanly restraint as admirable - but, from a 2024 perspective, to many it will make Elvis seem rather weird and very controlling. Once Priscilla is back in Graceland, Memphis, sadly Elvis's possessiveness and strange control-freakery gets worse. She is lavished with gifts – a car, a poodle, a hand-gun and told forcibly what she can and must not wear. She attends high school at her parents' understandable insistence but must on no account bring any friends home. And to keep Priscilla awake at school after late nights with Elvis at Graceland, he gives her big doses of amphetamines. For each dress in her wardrobe Elvis gives her a matching gun. All this is so weird that it is interesting – but director Coppola seems to be driving things along according to an agenda of her own. In one interview Coppola has said that she was inspired to tell Priscilla's story because of her own experience of growing up with a famous, powerful and overbearing figure (her father, ‘Godfather’ director, Francis Ford Coppola) - and because of that, Priscilla's memoir had struck a chord. Priscilla is one of the film's executive producers - and it is interesting to speculate whether, between them, Priscilla and Sofia Coppola were determined to make Elvis (now dead for over 46 years) look irredeemably strange, creepy and controlling. But that is how he emerges after watching Coppola's 113 minute film. And there is little here to remind the audience of his undoubted huge charisma as a performer. I can understand why the Presley estate – now owned principally by a brand management company – have steadfastly denied Coppola the rights to play any of Elvis's songs in her film. This creates a signifcant problem. The film starts with ‘Baby, I Love You’ by The Ramones and concludes with Dolly Parton singing ‘I Will Always Love You’ - great tunes but not Elvis tracks! At one point Elvis does a Jerry Lee Lewis impression, singing ‘Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On’ - but it is still not an Elvis number! Without any actual Elvis music, ‘Priscilla’ really does seem to lack authenticity - and many Elvis fans will not find much in this film to enjoy!

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