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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Photograph: Philippe Le Sourd

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Priscilla Presley’s marriage to Elvis is a life sentence in Sofia Coppola’s pink-hued prison movie

If Baz Luhrmann’s adoring Elvis presented the rock ‘n’ roller as a man weighed down by his own talent, responsibilities and, sure, the odd poor life choice, Sofia Coppola’s candy-coloured biographical drama is a tart rejoinder to that vision. Centering his wife, Priscilla (Mare of Easttown’s Cailee Spaeny), in their story, it presents a very different picture of ‘The King’. Maybe, it suggests, he was actually a total shit.

Based on Priscilla’s 1985 memoir of their marriage, ‘Elvis and Me’, and made with her full buy-in, Coppola gives us ‘Cilla’s side of the story – and she certainly thinks so.

Priscilla spans ten years of her relationship with Elvis (Aussie actor Jacob Elordi): from the chaste, if wildly age-inappropriate courtship (he was 24, she was 14) on a US Air Force base in West Germany in 1959, to the ash-end of their relationship when he was chugging pills and shaking his hips in Vegas and she was solo parenting at Graceland, wrung-out by his neglect and controlling nature.

By turns dreamy and dark-edged, it’s a twisted fairy tale that begins with a chaste kiss in a bedroom and ends with Priscilla locked in a tower of sorts, and Coppola tells it with unobtrusive flair. There’s none of Marie Antionette’s postmodern edge in its treatment of period, as if the filmmaker is mindful of distracting from her subject. Her trademark anachronistic soundtrack choices and Phoenix’s score blend seamlessly in with ’60s tunes. (The owners of Elvis’s music didn’t grant permission to use his songs.)

A twisted fairy tale, it begins with a chaste kiss and ends with Priscilla locked in a tower

Unlike Somewhere’s sun-kissed ennui or Lost in Translation’s gauzy, gentle alienation, the boredom cuts like a blade here. Even an idle flick through a gossip mag brings Priscilla face-to-face with her husband’s latest indiscretion, and peering through the gates of Graceland are an ever-present phalanx of girls. Elvis’s stern dad (Tim Post), meanwhile, patrols the mansion like a jailor. Friends are banned altogether. Hers, not his.

The two leads are well-matched: Elordi really delivers the voice and the looming physicality of Elvis, if not quite the insane charisma of Austin Butler in the Luhrmann film, and Spaeny gives the wide-eyed Priscilla a tentative determination as she arrives at Graceland, like a sparrow that’s landed in the wrong nest.

Priscilla’s screenplay, adapted from the book by Coppola, doesn’t offer stern moral judgment on the early courtship that, by any modern standards, would count as grooming. Instead, it shows the later Elvis as an erratic, controlling manchild who veers from angry to apologetic, often in the space of the same chair throw, and whose whims and excesses (pills, women, guns, mysticism, annoying friends) take a draining toll on Priscilla.

With so many biopics depicting the ‘woman behind the man’ as a victim, it’s great to see one that seizes back control of the narrative. Empathetic rather than judgy, Coppola’s relationship drama hands agency back to its young heroine. If there’s one takeaway, it’s try to find yourself a man who doesn’t give you Dexedrine to get through tenth grade maths – however godlike his hips. 

In US theaters Oct 27 and in UK cinemas Dec 26.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Sofia Coppola
  • Screenwriter:Sofia Coppola
  • Cast:
    • Jacob Elordi
    • Cailee Spaeny
    • Ari Cohen
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