Where her ex-husband has always been put in the spotlight, it is time for Priscilla Presley to have some light shone on her perspective.
The film relies heavily on Priscilla’s 1985 memoir, Elvis and Me, taking a different stance at the couple’s relationship and the troubles and turmoil Priscilla faced in particular. Directed by Sofia Coppola, the film steps back from pushing a binary of offender vs victim between Elvis and Priscilla. Rather the film works into the nooks and crannies of their private life and relationship away from the media buzz and fan craze outside their four walls. This film is crafted beautifully, with Coppola’s signature filmmaking techniques bleeding through every aesthetic and thematic element.
Coppola’s trademarks provide a backbone across all her films, tethering them together in artistic mastery. But for each individual film, it highlights her skilful and careful consideration for every single aspect in the shot.
She is known for incorporating various long shots in her films, making her protagonists seem insignificant and tiny within the shot composition. The effects of this are striking, particularly when analysing Priscilla. This story is about a woman who simultaneously has everything and nothing – a tough concept. In one memorable scene, Priscilla sits in a vast sitting room, covered in expensive furniture and décor. Yet she is completely alone, both in the shot and in her life. Despite being in love with one of the most iconic figures of her time, she is left lonely in her home. Long shots and long takes show her ambling around the room, and we are left wondering if being in love with a star is really all glitz and glam.
Coppola’s films are often layered and complex, but this is not done in a way that overwhelms the audience. Instead, it invites them into a rich story. The iconic photos of the couple and the moments they shared for the camera only scratches the surface of Priscilla’s relationship with Elvis. The film includes scenes of iconic and memorable events, such as their wedding and the birth of their daughter, Lisa Marie, and they were indeed matched with artistic precision and accuracy to the original, but this wasn’t the main aim of the film. Coppola took a different, modern-day perspective. Elvis’ growing fame and performances were largely left in the background, with the camera always following Priscilla.
Priscilla starts right at the beginning of their relationship, where a 14-year old Priscilla is invited to Elvis’ home for a party, and the two instantly connect. Coppola totally captures what teenage love feels like and the pain of being a lovesick adolescent. To prepare for the role, Cailee Spaeny met with Priscilla Presley and spoke often on the phone, where Presley recounted feeling too sick to even eat in anticipation of seeing Elvis. This is reflected in the film, not only by Spaeny’s fantastic performance, but by the set design too: the bleak army home in West Germany where the story begins is dreary, boring, and lifeless. We can see why she was attracted to the bright, unexpected, and spontaneous lifestyle that being with Elvis cultivated. Life without him seems darker.
Coppola totally captures what teenage love feels like and the pain of being a lovesick adolescent.
Spaeny was able to adapt flawlessly between the different stages of Priscilla’s life – which is a very demanding task to undertake. There was complete fluidity between the ages of Priscilla, from a young teenager falling in love, to a young adult starting a family, to a strong, woman who had been worn down by the demands and behaviours of Elvis.
Costume design was intricately thought-out, and the glamour and spark of the 1950s / 60s was brought to life. After being in Paris during high school, Coppola grew a strong appreciation for the world of fashion – as anyone would at a young age in the fashion capital. This was brought into the film seamlessly, and we know Coppola has a soft spot for using fashion as a form of expression in her films, especially for her female protagonists. We could infer that Priscilla constantly wanted to impress Elvis, and when he suggested she would look better with black dyed hair and dark eyeliner, she complied because Elvis said so.
Jacob Elordi recreated an Elvis that was very fitting for the film. We don’t follow him to his movie sets. We don’t go to every performance or musical milestone he has. In moments of them together, it is usually at their most intimate. Most scenes that contain both Elvis and Priscilla in the same shot is them bundled up in bed. Whether that is to sleep, cuddle, or take hallucinogenic substances, we are able to unpick a lot about what happens behind closed doors, safe from the reporters and fans. In many scenes, tension builds as we are expecting Elvis to lash out at his wife, then subsequently allow his fame to excuse his actions.
But Priscilla isn’t a depressing film about the failings of a relationship followed by divorce and separation. It is a slow burn; the relationship slowly unravels and comes apart with each turn. The narrative unfolds at a steady pace. This story takes us through Priscilla’s journey with Elvis, and out the other side.
But Priscilla isn’t a depressing film about the failings of a relationship followed by divorce and separation. It is a slow burn; the relationship slowly unravels and comes apart with each turn.
The ending is quite profound. Priscilla decides to leave Elvis, making the hard decision that will ultimately allow her to become a woman of her own, not Elvis’. For her whole life, she has followed the demands of dictatorial men, whether that be her father, Elvis, or other male figures since moving into Memphis. So when she drives out the gates of Graceland for one last time, she makes the decision for herself. The Dolly Parton song ‘I Will Always Love You’ grows and climaxes at the chorus, substituting as an inner monologue and representation for her love for Elvis. No Elvis songs were included in this film, hammering home the idea that this is solely about the woman who stood next to Elvis through all that time, who now deserves a stage of her own.