“Priscilla” – Escape from Graceland [Review]

priscilla movie


Title: “Priscilla”

Release Date: 2023

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Dominczyk ant others


I went to see “Priscilla” as part of the “cinema on heels” series, so there was a female audience, small gifts and the prospect of a pleasant girls’ evening. The story of a beautiful girl who fulfills her dream of living with Prince Charming, immersed in an aura of pink, lace, false eyelashes, nail polish, fancy hairstyles and designer stilettos seemed to fit the atmosphere perfectly. Especially since, whatever one may say, Elvis Presley and his wife were one of the most glamorous couples in the world. However, I left the cinema thoughtful not only about Priscilla and her unfulfilled dream, but about what Sofia Coppola says about a woman’s path to maturity. And she says that a girl becomes a woman only when she stops defining herself in relation to a man. And that’s what this film is primarily about for me.

“Priscilla” – another Coppola’s tale of coming of age

“Priscilla” is a film that seems almost emblematic of Sofia Coppola’s work. The director has been focusing on the theme of female puberty since the beginning of her career. From “The Curse of Innocence” (1999) through “Between Words” (2003) and “Marie Antoinette” (2006), the filmmaker has been interested in girls on the threshold of adulthood. Coppola’s latest film fits perfectly into this trend. For here we have the story of the titular Priscilla, who at the age of fourteen meets the great star of his time – Elvis Presley. The meeting takes place in 1959 in West Berlin, where the king of rock’n’roll is doing his military service and she is staying as the stepdaughter of an off-duty United States Air Force officer.

Somewhat weary of popularity and pursued by passion-crazed female fans, Elvis is currently mourning the death of his beloved mother. The shy and unassuming teenager seems to him a salvation from his unstable lifestyle. He sees in her an angelic woman – innocent, gentle and completely submissive, who will keep the flame of the home fire burning. Completely stunned by Elvis’ affection, Priscilla, after a few years, gets her parents’ permission to move to the US and moves into Graceland. Thus begins, unknown from popular legends, the second part of the Cinderella tale. Priscilla transforms from an average teenager into a real beauty queen, who every morning greets her prince in the most fanciful costumes. However, more cracks begin to appear in the seemingly perfect life: Elvis’ addiction to drugs, growing loneliness, her husband’s numerous infidelities, in a word, everything that does not fit into the conventions of a fairy tale and which is also not completely brought to light in the film. Rather, these most difficult and painful experiences remain in the realm of understatement, as Priscilla’s private world is in the foreground.

Priscilla movie review

It is this intimacy of the story that puts Sofia Coppola’s film at the complete opposite pole to Baz Luhrmann’s famous “Elvis.” While the latter’s picture is a grand spectacle, analyzing the stage phenomenon of the king of rock’n’roll, “Priscilla” is the quintessence of simplicity and an atmosphere of privacy. Baz Luhrmann’s film screams, while Coppola’s picture shyly whispers, just as its heroine herself whispers, just learning to make her own statements. This is eminently feminine cinema, which speaks through the juxtaposition of girly details: false eyelashes, tiny poufs, lipsticks, powders and perfumes, from which imperceptibly begins to emerge an increasingly adequate face of the heroine seeking her own identity in the shadow of a great star.

“Priscilla” – loneliness behind the gates of Graceland

Priscilla’s life alongside Elvis Presley begins with a symbolic scene when, as a teenager, she is brought to the star’s estate in Memphis and the gates of the famous Graceland open to her. The final shot of the film is a contrasting reference to that moment: the heroine, driving alone, leaves Presley’s estate and sees the same gates in front of her from the other side. This piece of Priscilla’s biography, which we follow on screen, is thus a period of closure of sorts. Coppola used a similar procedure in “Marie Antoinette” – brought to the French court as a teenager, and finally leaving it in the last scene.

This golden cage in which Priscilla lives, however, is not just an imprisonment, but becomes a space for her to mature and gain experience. Initially, Priscilla learns by trial and error how to please her beloved: what to wear, how to paint herself, how to behave and what to say. At the same time, completely imperceptibly to herself, she is gaining knowledge about herself. This is fostered by the acute loneliness of Elvis’ wife, who could almost be called the film’s independent heroine. Lonely is Priscilla and lonely is Elvis, and this state is emphasized by the significant depletion of dialogues in favor of extended images. Elvis and Priscilla almost do not talk to each other, they primarily pose for photographs. The camera accompanies them even in their most intimate moments in the bedroom. In the foreground of this relationship is creation and role-playing, not authentic intimacy. The latter is also lacking in the erotic sphere. Elvis, leading a rich erotic life with adventurous partners, does not burn with great passion for his own wife, seeing her as the embodiment of an untouchable madonna, the guardian of the household hearth.

Priscilla 2023 review

In his relationship with Priscilla, the King of Rock’n’Roll is shown as someone like a teacher, even a preacher. He likes to read the “Bible” to her and explain the various verses. He is happy to brag about her to the press, but rarely takes her to performances. He doesn’t want to be a partner for her, and harshly criticizes every manifestation of her independent opinions. Priscilla is destined to become an eternal girl, for whom he will be the guide and greatest authority. The problem, however, is that Elvis’ wife slowly matures, becomes a mother and begins to build her own independent space.

I think the film has its shortcomings, which include numerous long-drawn-out scenes or the excessive blurring of individual episodes from the Presleys’ lives, which, combined with poor dialogue, makes the whole thing a bit heavy and at times tiresome. However, I think that both of the actors playing the main roles performed very well. Cailee Spaeny, who is innocent and lost in the world of glitter, evokes sympathy, while Jacob Elordi creates an ambiguous and mysterious creation. His selfish behavior is balanced by generosity, devotion to loved ones or the desire for creative development. It is also worth praising the beautiful cinematography, bringing out the importance of details, excellent set design, costumes and, of course, music, capturing the atmosphere of the time.

“Priscilla” and her own life

In the first scene of the film, Priscilla enters the screen as the embodiment of male design: we see her feet with pink-painted nails traversing a plush pink carpet. We can almost feel its soft touch – it’s a touch of the image of a beautiful princess, leading a trouble-free life in a grand castle, who needs only luxurious clothes and trinkets to be happy, allowing her to satisfy her own vanity and gain the love of a prince. In the finale, on the other hand, we observe Priscilla completely transformed, without false eyelashes, in a classic outfit, who has the most frank farewell conversation in the film with Elvis. When asked by her husband if she is leaving for another man, she denies it and states that the one she is leaving for is her own life.

And I think this is what “Priscilla” is about – the beginning of maturity, which, repeating a well-known Polish psychologist, can be described as “life after a man.” It’s the moment when a woman realizes that the cultural narrative that her vocation is to marry a prince is simply a lie. It’s a stage of liberation and gaining the right to her own vision of love, motherhood and family, and above all to an independent project of herself, which is best captured in the final lyrical song “I Will Always Love You,” performed by Dolly Parton.