Priscilla review: A complex and fascinating look at love and fame

Sofia Coppola's return to form hits UAE cinemas

Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi in Priscilla. Photo: A24 Films
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Having written and directed the likes of Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette, Somewhere and The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola has perfected telling quietly devastating stories about female characters living in gilded cages.

It makes sense, then, that she would be attracted to the story of Priscilla Presley, wife of legendary American singer Elvis. Based on her memoir Elvis And Me, the biopic tells the story of Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny), 14, meeting Elvis (Jacob Elordi) after he is drafted into the military and stationed in Germany.

Over the next few months, the pair begin to casually date despite their ten-year age gap and his status as the most popular singer in the world. When Elvis returns to the US, they briefly lose contact. He reaches out to her again in 1962, declares his love for her and she ultimately moves out to be with him in his personal palace called Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee, where she vows to finish high school.

But what starts off as a teenage fantasy-come-true soon descends into a nightmare. Presley has to take frequent trips out to Los Angeles to make movies, leaving her under the strict rules of Elvis’s father Vernon (Tim Post). As Elvis’s reliance on drugs increases alongside rumours of his infidelities, Priscilla’s mental health deteriorates as she has to decide whether or not to stay with him.

While the patient and complex Priscilla couldn’t be more stylistically different to Baz Luhrmann’s loud and bombastic 2022 biopic Elvis, the two movies actually complement each other well. Elvis shows what made Presley attractive to so many people and how his popularity was exploited, while Priscilla depicts how the darker side of fame impacted those in his orbit, too.

But Priscilla is a movie that whispers, compared to Elvis's screams for attention.

Coppola’s approach isn’t always for everyone. Rather than make her themes and intentions explicitly obvious, she uses a slow-burn method to give viewers a more intimate connection to the characters. This challenges viewers to focus and question what the director wants them to see, and there are times when Priscilla seems to be drifting and lacks the drama it could have.

PRISCILLA

Director: Sofia Coppola

Starring: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi

Rating: 3/5

What really saves Priscilla from feeling underwhelming, though, is its pair of restrained yet captivating lead performances that make the viewer care about both characters.

Elordi’s version of Elvis is much more grounded, vulnerable and unlikeable than Austin Butler’s Oscar-nominated turn. There’s still a raw magnetism to his portrayal. At times he acts like he’s afraid of the allure he holds, while, as the film goes on, he starts to use the power to his advantage, controlling Priscilla more and more.

Spaeny is the real standout. While she starts out naive and passive, you see her being seduced by Presley, his fame and wealth, before she then subtly reveals the cracks caused by being manipulated. It’s also remarkable how she seamlessly goes from playing a teenage girl to a woman of 28 in such an authentic manner.

Coppola manages to toe the line between heartfelt and unsettling, allowing the audience to understand why these two lonely people initially had such a strong connection, while also revealing how the fame and isolation tore them apart.

Unfortunately, Priscilla’s final act doesn’t do quite enough to deliver the rousing finale that it has seemingly set-up so well. Spaeny's final sequence is deeply emotional, especially when coupled with the song Coppola has chosen, but it’ll make you nod in approval rather than actually moving you.

There’s still more than enough in Priscilla to be fascinated and impressed by, and it’ll also undoubtedly stay with you – making you look at The King Of Rock And Roll in a new light.

Priscilla is now in cinemas across the Middle East

Updated: December 29, 2023, 3:39 AM
PRISCILLA

Director: Sofia Coppola

Starring: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi

Rating: 3/5