Reviewed by John Nathan
Whether she intended to or not director Sofia Coppola has created the perfect riposte or, depending on your point of view, companion piece to Baz Lurhmann’s dazzling, recent biopic Elvis.
Each movie focusses naturally enough on the title role. But Coppola’s conveys Priscilla’s experience of celebrity more subtly than Lurhmann’s does the madness of the Elvis circus. Here the point is often the silent solitude of Priscilla’s life. In one telling scene the camera lingers on the Cailee Spaeny’s 15-year-young Priscilla as she takes in the sterile, gilded cage of Graceland, the rambling estate into which Elvis installed the under-age love of his life.
Film Priscilla directed by Sofia Coppola Starring Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla and Jacob Elordi as Elvis Presley No Fee publicity photo
The film opens a year earlier when Priscilla was simply the bored daughter of an army officer stationed in Germany in 1959. Drafted Elvis was also there. But because he was already famous he had his own house off base instead of in barracks. Priscilla is willingly pulled into the star’s parties and his orbit despite the reservations of her father (Ari Cohen).
Film Priscilla directed by Sofia Coppola Starring Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla and Jacob Elordi as Elvis Presley No Fee publicity photo priscilla_day_1_SL_00425.ARW
Meanwhile Elvis doesn’t so much seduce as decide. When he flies Priscilla first class to his rambling estate Graceland only then does Priscilla’s realise her role is simply to wait for his return while he makes movies.
Literally all dressed up with no place to go her only escape is her Catholic school, the condition made by her father before allowing Priscilla to leave Germany. In one telling scene she attempts to look purposeful in a room with only plush furniture for company. She sits or stands like a human ornament while the uneventful passing of time is captured by Sarah Flack’s fine editing – a series of still lifes capturing Priscilla’s inert environment.
Coppola makes no judgement about the age difference between school girl and the 20-something rising star (Jacob Elordi) withhe was enthralled with. This is after all a story told from Priscilla’s perspective (and based on her memoir) and thankfully not with the aid of a 21st century moral compass to tell us how how to feel and what to think.
In any case Elvis is shown to be almost sexually neglectful as he sticks to his vaguely explained principle of no sex before marriage.
Don’t expect an Elvis soundtrack. Coppola could not buy the rights. The result however is a much more interesting score made of period and modern pop that maps out Priscilla’s emotional life much better than Elvis’s songs might.