When Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis was released last year, I saw it multiple times in the cinema. It blew my mind. I know that it’s not everyone’s favourite Luhrmann film, but you can’t deny how incredibly it tells the story of Elvis Presley. Prior to seeing the feature, I obviously knew about Elvis, but didn’t really care about him. Now I listen to his music most weeks (as well as the film soundtrack), I dressed up as him for my birthday party in the summer (it was Baz Luhrmann themed…) and have been gifted CDs and novelty items with his face on. Even though I appreciate his art and iconic additions to pop culture, I do prefer the film to the American star. So, I was wildly excited when I heard that Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir was going to be adapted for the screen, to tell her side of the story, and complete the tale.
Before I continue, do be aware that there will be spoilers for both Elvis (2022) and Priscilla (2023). I also want to make clear that I’m talking about the films rather than the people, with the films italicised and names not. I don’t want to say that either one of the famous pair was right or wrong in what happened. There are two sides to every story, but due to the fact that one person in the pair can’t fight to truly have their half told, I want to assume that there are more sides than we’ve been allowed to see, even if the films have been deeply open.
I have previously given my thoughts on Elvis, but as a quick recap: I loved it and now say that it’s one of my favourite films. I didn’t know the story of the star before stepping into the cinema, but I truly believe that Baz was the best person to take on this beast of a film. We’re taken on a drug infused, neon haze of a life with glamour and love, as well as destruction and hate. The bright lights of Vegas and intensity of performance really highlight how it must’ve felt to be that person. It was golden but deadly. The way that the music had been infused with modern artists and remixed was masterful and heavenly. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever grow out of watching it, seeing something new in the edit, hearing an echo of a different song, and finding another archive element each time I’m able to press play.
Olivia DeJonge played Priscilla in Elvis and won Best Supporting Actress at the 2022 AACTA Awards for it. Even though the film’s focus is on the relationship between Elvis and his manager Colonel Tom Parker, DeJonge stands strong in her role, showcasing Priscilla as a young girl meeting Elvis for the first time, up until after their divorce in 1973. She encapsulates the beauty and poise of Priscilla’s infamous style and charm, and speaks her mind, being a true friend as well as lover. She’s pushed around by her husband through drugs, affairs and performing, but we never really stop and see inside her mind until she tells Elvis that she’s leaving him. The two films have many similarities, of course through the locations and general storylines, but also through truths that no one can deny. “If I don’t leave now, I never will.” is something that Priscilla says in both films. It’s powerful yet heart-breaking. Something we don’t really understand the true meaning of until seeing Priscilla.
Out later this year, Priscilla is Sofia Coppola’s next offering to the sad Pinterest girls, and she hits the top mark yet again. Following the timeline of Priscilla’s memoir Elvis & Me, we meet Priscilla as a teenager in Germany. She’s introduced to Elvis whilst he’s serving in the army and the pair quickly fall for each other. Priscilla was 14 at their initial meeting, with Elvis being 10 years older. In Baz’s film, we see this as love and longing, whereas Sofia aims to answer the question that we’re all asking: Was she being groomed? We’re allowed to make our own moral judgement of the situation, with the real Priscilla always denying that’s what happened to her. She was an Executive Producer on the film, making sure that her book was correctly adapted for the big screen. In the announcement for the feature, it felt like they were doing this to compete with Elvis, but after watching, instead it’s a standalone story as well as an accompanying piece to give Priscilla her deserved screentime and amplify that she wasn’t just a side character in Elvis’ life, she was a girl who wanted to love and be loved.
Priscilla also worked across Elvis, spending time with Baz across the development stages, and attending many of the premiere events for the film’s release. She and her family have said nothing but good things about the film, allowing Elvis to be showcased in a truthful yet positive light, welcoming fans and unknown audiences to be introduced to his private life in a delicate way through the eyes of the Colonel. The King’s ex-wife has encouraged realness yet integrity so that people can know his truth, but that does mean that Priscilla is a strong side character with goodness and grace, rather than an occasional frustration to Elvis which Priscilla often alludes to. Obviously, Elvis is dead, so he’s unable to give his opinions on either film and actual true opinion and love for Priscilla, but we can guess that he’d see truth in both, whether he’d admit it or not.
Cailee Spaeny brings Cilla to life in Priscilla. She’s wonderfully able to act as a 14-year-old ninth grader or 26-year-old mother, embodying the celebrity lust and female frustrations as someone forced to grow up in a way that people falsely dream of. In this film, Cilla is shy, worried to speak her thoughts on foreign territory, feeling like a child to most of the people around her. She’s a secret, abandoned by the man who said he’d care for her after encouraging her parents to let her go. Cailee has a sparkle in her eyes but can dull her face in an instant as she reacts to her co-star’s uncomfortable lines. There are moments when she’s holding baby Lisa Marie, looking as innocent as a child herself.
I think Sofia has done an incredible job at bringing the book to the screen. Like I said with Baz, Sofia was the perfect choice for this production, focusing on girlhood and the beautiful mess that comes along with it. We have the classic close ups of make-up and magazines, setting up the palette of expectations of forbidden romance and growing up. I’ve never read the book, Elvis and Me, but I can assume that it’s a straight adaptation of the joy and destruction that Priscilla went through. Because of that, it is scene after scene of a 13-year relationship with not much else bringing excitement to the story. I feel this could polarise some audience members, but it kept me in awe. We have the view of a young girl who was taken and silenced. Intrigued by love and life, but shut away and held hostage. It feels dramatic when I type it out, but behind the infamous eyeliner, pretty outfits and matching bedazzled guns, that’s exactly what it was.
As the credits rolled, I nearly started crying. I think I was just overwhelmed with what Priscilla was put through, and how Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ guided her drive away from Graceland. The film made the audience laugh at awkward moments, but also gasp at what a young girl went through alone.
Before I wrap this up, I cannot talk about Priscilla without talking about Elvis! The infamous accent, the years playing the part, Austin Butler won awards and nominations for his time as the King in Elvis, but also ridicule. In Priscilla, Jacob Elordi is the husband and almost seems more delicate and chicin comparison. I think that both have done an incredible job at bringing this icon to life through looks, style and voice. Austin was Elvis in Elvis. Of course he spent more time in the role, preparing for performances and pushing his body in extravagant ways. Jacob was Elvis in Priscilla, where he wasn’t the main character, and could represent the spirit of Cilla’s husband through a mumbling accent and strutting walk. I think they should both be applauded for their skills. On a personal note (if any of this has been more than just my opinion anyway…), I don’t find Austin a sexy Elvis like a lot of people did, but Jacob on the other hand really made me understand why so many people professed their love to the King. The scene when he’s roller-skating, oh my. I’d be screaming outside of Graceland for a date like that.
Priscilla is a down to earth fairy-tale, exploring the innocence and grit behind a woman who wanted to be loved as much as she gave. Elvis is an intense journey from childhood to death, highlighting race, politics and greed through Hollywood lights and chart-topping albums. Each feature allows the story of the main character to be told with dignity and truth, letting the world see what took place behind closed doors. Whether you see them as interlinking tales or two sides of two different coins, you can’t deny the power they have through love, music and honesty. I cannot wait to watch Priscilla again when it’s out at the cinemas, as I was able to see an early showing at the 2023 BFI London Film Festival, and eventually add the DVD to my collection, next to Elvis. I can’t believe how this couple, basically American royalty, have grabbed so much of my attention and a lot of other people’s too, in just the past few years. I wonder what we’ll be seeing from them next, or if now their tales have been told we can lay their love to rest.