Priscilla Review

Teenager Priscilla Beaulieu (Spaeny) meets Elvis Presley (Elordi) in 1959. The pair strike up a relationship — which soon turns into a toxic marriage.

by Beth Webb |
Published on
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Seldom do the words “glamorous” and “childbirth” belong in the same sentence. Yet as a heavily pregnant Priscilla Presley emerges from the car that has rushed her to hospital in high-heeled boots and recently applied false eyelashes, those two words seem to bond like “rock” and “roll”.

The latest entry in Sofia Coppola’s sad-girl canon is a meticulously crafted melodrama about a meticulously crafted young woman; a teenage fan-turned-bride whose world is dictated by the love of her life — one of the most famous and desired men alive at the time. As always, Coppola — here adapting Priscilla Presley’s memoir Elvis And Me — keeps her lens focused on her female protagonist, as the ebbs and flows of an overwhelming relationship cause her love to calcify over some 14 years.


It’s a demanding task embodying a character over three eventful, deeply impactful phases of their early life, but Cailee Spaeny —in her first major leading role — rises to it. With a face that seems to effortlessly adapt to Priscilla in early teens through to her late twenties, the actor delicately moves from lovesick adolescent to a woman who seems older than her years, worn down by a man whose fame excuses his bad impulses.

As a portrait of a young woman’s journey through a tragic marriage and out the other side, Priscilla soars.

Elvis’ public persona is largely left off screen, and instead Coppola beams a light into every dark corner of his private personality, from his pill addiction to his controlling nature to brief flashes of violence. Yet even when working with the murkier side of The King, Jacob Elordi is on star-making form, at once transfixing and chilling as his character’s temperament shifts gear at an alarming rate. The pair together are bewitching as they navigate their early courtship, marriage, and the arrival of daughter Lisa Marie, and are as convincing in the happiest moments as they are the worst.

Over her career, Coppola has finessed a filmmaking style that’s simultaneously romantic while accentuating the loneliness her characters so often carry. That style thrives here as the camera lingers at a distance, making the pristine rooms of Graceland seem cavernous as Priscilla wanders aimlessly between them. Meanwhile, cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd’s lucid, dreamy tones, and swoon-inducing songs from the likes of the Ramones and Brenda Lee are used to build an idyllic if isolating landscape. The film doesn’t move at a quick pace, with the impact of Elvis’ toxicity slowly curdling the marriage instead of setting it instantly ablaze. Those expecting a racy, scandal-fuelled biopic may feel shortchanged. As a portrait of a young woman’s journey through a tragic marriage and out the other side, however, Priscilla soars.

With its woozy aesthetic and dynamic, beguiling cast, Priscilla is textbook Sofia Coppola: not breaking the mould, but a sublime continuation of her sad-girl sensibilities.
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