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“Priscilla” diminishes Elvis Presley’s reputation

(Photo Courtesy of: IMDb) “Cailee Spaeny stars as Priscilla Presley in the film ‘Priscilla'”.

Kara MacDougall
Connector Contributor

Sophia Coppola’s new film, “Priscilla”, shows the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, in a different light. The King would not have been all too happy about his on-screen portrayal today, based on Priscilla’s own testimony from her book “Elvis and Me”. 

Austin Butler portrayed Elvis in a flattering light in last year’s biopic, “Elvis”. But Jacob Elordi’s role as Elvis in “Priscilla” tells the story of a different man—one who was demoted to a side character in the life of his child bride. If “Priscilla” excels at anything, it is in making viewers feel isolated alongside her. 

In many ways, “Priscilla” feels like less of a continuous story and more like a series of scenes aimed at building suspense. It paints a clear picture of Elvis as a cheater, an addict and above all, an abuser; a larger-than-life figure who swooped a ninth grade girl off her feet and kept her like a pet at Graceland, away from her family.  

This film is equal parts drama and psychological thriller. It does not open with a shot of Elvis throwing a chair at his wife; it starts with a smile as smooth as blue suede, and a few suggestions about how Priscilla should dress and behave.  

Although the film is apt at demonstrating the glitz and glamor that the Presleys indulged in, much of it is set at the home where Elvis kept Priscilla under the surveillance of his family. Other than during the parties Elvis threw, Graceland is quiet. It is decorated in shades of muted gray and blue.  

Viewers watch the evolution of Elvis into a rock ‘n’ roll legend but are compelled to focus on Priscilla. As she downs more pills and reads more tabloids about her husband’s affairs, her eye makeup and hair color darken. Cailee Spaeny masterfully plays Priscilla in the role of a timid and battered girl-turned-woman. 

What makes this film so powerful is the nuance and details. Although the script is fictionalized to some degree, the language Elvis uses towards Priscilla is intentionally demeaning. When he proposes, he is not down on one kneebut sitting beside Priscilla making a statement about marriage rather asking Priscilla for her hand in marriage. 

He makes a spectacle out of her, often in front of his friends who are much older than her. He is dismissive, temperamental and often violent. Viewers agonize during every interaction between the couple everyone once envied, fearfully awaiting the next act of cruelty. 

“Priscilla” is not a perfect film. It appears that the soundtrack and aesthetic appeal of this movie were prioritized over creating action, and because of this many viewers may feel that the film is boring. But it is definitively a feminist film: the first of its kind in terms of sidelining Elvis’ achievements for the sake of shedding light on Priscilla’s suffering. The portrayal of girlhood stolen and corrupted is chilling, and a necessary response to the 2022 “Elvis” biopic that sought to preserve his gilded reputation. 

Overall Grade: B- 

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