credit MUBI

“How can the guys at school compare to the icon that is Elvis?” – A Priscilla review

By Emilija Morrison

Sofia Coppola once again dazzles on the silver screen with her latest film Priscilla.

In 2023, it seemed like the only films I saw twice at the cinema were those directed by women. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, I saw twice over the summer, on both occasions clad in pink Barbie-approved attire. It was a film that needed to be seen on several occasions. The other film I opted to watch twice was Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla. Once at the Stockholm Film Festival in November, then my second viewing just a few days after Christmas.

Having been a Sofia Coppola fan for over a decade, I was greatly anticipating the biopic of Priscilla Presley, wife to the legendary Elvis Presley. Coppola does historical films incredibly well – Marie Antoinette remains one of my all-time favourite historical films – and I was sure that this was to be a treat.

Now, of course, some were saying that it wasn’t a film that needed to be made. We already had Luhrmann’s Elvis just last year, did we need another so soon? However, I would say that we did. Priscilla in Elvis was a minor girlfriend character, unmemorable. Meanwhile, with Coppola’s Priscilla, she is given a chance to be seen, understood. The most crucial aspect to the film was getting to know who Priscilla is as a person, as well as exploring the dynamic between her and Elvis. She meets him as a lonely fourteen year old, far away from home in Germany. And we can see why she takes to Elvis so much. He represents excitement, escape from a mundane, isolated existence. Her parents can’t understand why he’s taken an interest in the schoolgirl, nor why Priscilla is so smitten. What about the guys at school, they ask? But truly, how can the guys at school compare to the icon that is Elvis?

Unfortunately, whilst the idea of a superstar sweeping you off your feet sounds like a fairytale, the film emphasises that this is far from the case for Priscilla. The toxicity of the relationship is shown very well. Half the time he’s abroad on some film set or another and through magazines, she finds details of his numerous affairs with women much more grown up and glamorous than the teenage Priscilla. She even confronts him about an affair with one actress, exclaiming, “Why can’t she go back to Sweden where she belongs?” (Such a statement provoked a laugh from the Swedish audience at the film festival). Coppola shows how Elvis can be very controlling. He moulds her into the woman he wants her to be. He has final say in what she wears, how she styles her hair, her make-up. He creates her famous look. And say Priscilla wants to wear a dress she herself chooses? Ha. She can only wear such an outfit if she garners Elvis’ approval. Their relationship is incredibly stifling, with Priscilla even forbidden from having a job of her own and making some money. Meanwhile at school, her grades suffer due to the distractions of Elvis.

Cailee Spaeny gives a particularly memorable performance as Priscilla, a performance that rightly deserves its Venice win. She shows the girl who becomes obsessed with the exciting older man, leaving everything behind so as to follow him to the gilded prison that is Graceland. And it is a prison. She can’t even play with the dog in the grounds: she is trapped within its four walls. Coppola is very effective in her films at showing various women trapped within their own homes, from the girls seclusion in “The Virgin Suicides” to Versailles in Marie Antoinette. Thankfully, unlike some of Coppola’s other heroines, Priscilla is able to escape. Only towards the end of the film do we witness Priscilla gaining back her power, first with self-defence classes and then eventually leaving Elvis and having her own independence.

Jacob Elordi, meanwhile, has become my new celebrity crush. Between Priscilla and the recent Saltburn, he has shown that he has talent beyond Euphoria. His performance as Elvis is different to that of Austin Butler. Both are exceptionally talented, however, Elordi perhaps makes for the hotter Elvis. 

It is worth pointing out that what particularly stood out to me with the film was the pastel pink dreaminess of it all, as well as the outfits. Much of the film is bathed in pink from the décor to several of her outfits. But even when the outfits are not pink, they still very much catch your eye. Many are blue, after Elvis told Priscilla that “Blue’s your colour”. Her outfits represent the best the 60s has to offer in terms of fashion, from white daisy-patterned dresses to her iconic wedding dress. We can understand why Priscilla remains a fashion icon even today.

Overall, there is no one better to tell Priscilla’s story than Sofia Coppola who is able to tell her story in an empathetic yet truthful way. It is no wonder that Priscilla herself approached Coppola, seeing as both women have experienced the perils of growing up in the public eye.

Priscilla has a crucial message. Whether you are dating the most famous superstar in the world or someone much more ordinary, it is important as a woman to have that independence and have an identity of one’s own, as well as the ability to break free if need be.


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments