It’s hard not to compare Sophia Coppola’s new film Priscilla, a biopic about Priscilla Presley, to Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 extravagant Elvis movie. They are striking opposites in many ways.
Luhrmann’s Elvis was flashy, vibrant, fast-paced and focused on Elvis as an icon. Meanwhile, Coppola’s Priscilla is thoughtful, dream-like, with muted colors and a slow, sometimes tedious pace. It centers not on Elvis’s career, but on Priscilla’s confined domestic life.
Another contrast is that Luhrmann’s film had the support of Lisa Marie Presley’s Presley Foundation, while Coppola’s did not have the rights to any Elvis songs, reportedly facing criticism from Lisa Marie over its source material – Priscilla’s memoir Elvis and Me.
Yet Priscilla deserves to be seen as its own distinct film, not just in relation to Elvis. It offers a new perspective from Priscilla’s view, though she remains on the outskirts of her own story.
Priscilla release date
On September 4, 2023, Priscilla premiered at the 80th Venice International Film Festival. The movie was released in the United States in limited cinemas on October 24 before releasing nationwide on November 3. The movie will premiere in theaters globally on January 5, 2023.
The movie has been praised by the viewers and critics but failed to collect revenue at the box office and has grossed $5.3 million up till now.
Ben Kenigsberg of The New York Times described Spaeny’s performance as sensitive and versatile. Marlow Stern of Rolling Stone wrote that Spaeny, despite being 25, makes for a convincing teen. She skillfully captures Priscilla’s complex mix of emotions – wide-eyed wonder, youthful desire, apprehension, and fear.
Meanwhile, Stern felt Elordi’s take on Elvis seems more grounded in reality than Austin Butler’s flashy portrayal. The dynamic between Spaeny and Elordi helps convey the uneven power dynamics at the core of Priscilla and Elvis’s relationship. Reviews suggest the lead actors deliver nuanced, compelling performances.
In her signature style, Coppola meticulously constructs this world through subtle shifts in clothes, decor, cars, and music as we move through the 1950s, 60s and early 70s. She effectively creates a sense of time and place.
The film opens with a close-up of feet barely leaving imprints in plush carpet – Priscilla barely makes a mark in her lavish yet confined life. We then flashback to 1959 at an Army base in Germany. 14-year-old Priscilla is spotted by a soldier as a potential “friend” for Elvis and invited to his party. Despite her young age, Elvis, who was enlisted in the Army, is drawn to Priscilla. So begins their fateful relationship spanning almost two decades, even continuing after their divorce.
Through precise period details, Coppola transports us into Priscilla’s perspective across the eras of her complex relationship with Elvis. Priscilla remains a passive presence, but Coppola’s direction grounds us in the specific times and places she inhabited.
The film emphasizes the 10-year age gap between Priscilla and Elvis. Coppola shows Elordi’s imposing Elvis towering over Spaeny’s young teen Priscilla. She highlights how the adults around them fail to intervene in the inappropriate relationship.
Coppola depicts how Elvis love-bombs the shy Priscilla, then molds her into his ideal image. Once at Graceland, she’s isolated and controlled. Meanwhile, he pursues fame and affairs.
The portrayal shows Elvis as complex – charming yet volatile and ego-driven. Priscilla focuses solely on staying by his side, ignoring his neglect. She squeezes herself into whatever he wants, leaving her own identity behind.
This fits Coppola’s style of young women struggling with identity, like The Virgin Suicides. It also echoes Pablo Larrain’s Spencer about Princess Diana.
The film is uneven. The first half engages, then it slows until an abrupt ending. Priscilla’s liberation feels rushed. We get no sense of her motivations. She remains unknowable. But it offers an observation on the difficulty of life in Elvis’s orbit and the complexity beneath his iconic image.
If you like watching Western drama movies and TV shows, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla is for you. The movie has everything for the drama lover and will justify a cenima ticket. You can also watch Elvis the movie on Netflix before giving Priscilla a shot.