Venice 2023: Priscilla movie review – Lost in Translation’s Sofia Coppola profiles Elvis Presley’s ex-wife in bittersweet biopic

3.5/5 stars

A young girl crosses a pink fluffy carpet barefoot – the very first shot of Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla is as delicate as you might expect from the director of Lost in Translation.

Coppola, who returns to the Venice International Film Festival competition where she won the Golden Lion for 2010’s Somewhere, brings her inimitable style to this biopic of Priscilla Presley, based on the latter’s book Elvis and Me. And for a while it fascinates, as a 15-year-old girl from Austin, Texas, meets and falls for the king of rock ’n’ roll.
A splendid Cailee Spaeny ( Pacific Rim Uprising) stars as Priscilla, beginning in 1959, when she was living in West Germany with her army family. It is here where she is introduced to Elvis (Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi), doing his military service.

After time apart, Elvis calls and she convinces her parents to let her go to Memphis, Tennessee, and move into the singer’s Graceland home. Still only 17, she enrols in a Catholic school to graduate, and even bribes a fellow pupil to help her cheat in her exams.

Coppola, who adapted the book, does not hold back on the more difficult aspects of their relationship, from Elvis’ notorious reliance on prescription pills to his controlling behaviour or even his propensity for violence.

(From left) Actor Jacob Elordi, director Sofia Coppola, actress Cailee Spaeny, and Priscilla Presley at a photo call for the film “Priscilla” at the 80th Venice International Film Festival. Photo: Reuters

When she suggests she get a part-time job, “It’s either me or a career, baby”, he intones in that familiar snarl, which the Australian-born Elordi effortlessly captures.

Priscilla, meanwhile, has to deal with internal angst, with the papers full of rumours about Elvis and Nancy Sinatra, actress Ann-Margret and various starlets.

Inevitably, Priscilla will be compared to Baz Luhrmann’s recent Elvis, this being a quiet B side compared to the brash showmanship of Luhrmann’s film. For one thing, the Presley estate did not allow use of the singer’s music – bar a rendition of Guitar Man and a piano version of Love Me Tender – but this does not have a negative impact on the film, with Coppola finding innovative solutions.
Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in a still from “Priscilla”. Photo: Philippe Le Sourd.

With pitch-perfect production design and costumes at her disposal, Coppola truly captures the era, and even dives into Elvis’ brush with spiritualism, gurus and LSD.

The film falters slightly in its final third, perhaps not quite delivering the emotional gut punch you would expect as Priscilla resolves to leave the only man she has ever loved.

Does it get in her head enough? Maybe not, and it is arguably more conventional than Coppola’s 2006 period biopic Marie Antoinette. But it ends on a satisfyingly bittersweet note of resignation, shades of black replacing the pink fluffiness.

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