Dir/Wri: Sofia Coppola | US Drama 110′
Picturing the early days of Elvis Presley’s career from the perspective of Priscilla, his first love, wife and mother of Lisa-Marie, Sofia Coppola plumps for a tender teenage imagining doused in pervasive melancholy. And Priscilla may not go down well with Elvis fans.
Priscilla Presley, née Beaulieu, is 14 when she falls for the 24-year-old nascent hip-swivler, who emerges a manipulative, narcissist given to angry outbursts. Coppola also portrays him as a bed-dodger, prone to spiritual fads and introspective navel-gazing, and clearly only in love with himself.
Jacob Elordi really captures this morose side of Elvis, and certainly looks the part with his rangy physicality and matinee idol sultriness. He also conveys an emotional hollowness in the singer that eventually renders him a gothic vampire-like character. With his controlling ways and sinister subterfuge, he appears to groom her, but not as a sexual Svengali, contrary to appearances. What he wants is a trophy wife to stay in the background while he enjoys the romantic attentions of his film co-stars Ann-Margret and Nancy Sinatra.
The young Elvis clings to the cutesy, doll-like, reassuring figure of Priscilla as a mother substitute. They are both Texans far from home (he is stationed in Germany doing military service, she the daughter of an army commander), and Elvis desperately misses his ‘mom’. But this is a first love affair that never matures into adulthood, and Priscilla remains physically and emotionally unfulfilled. Despite Elvis’s simmering sexuality he fails to meet her seemingly modest needs in the bedroom. And this is the film’s enlightening secret. The film is endorsed by Presley herself and adapted from her book ‘Elvis and Me’ which she co-wrote with Sandra Harmon.
The emphasis here is also Priscilla’s strict upbringing, as a schoolgirl still studying for her ‘A’ levels. Elvis invites her to Memphis where she disappears into his mansion to live out a lonely existence despite an initial welcome from his grandma ‘Dodger’. His father Vernon is a mean old man, and Elvis spends most of his time with the boys, a set of male acolytes known as the “Memphis Mafia”.
Spaeny is perfectly cast in the role of Priscilla exuding a soft sensuous charm, she is vulnerable yet canny until her joy is eventually smothered. Priscilla is a romantic drama founded on its hazy romantic atmosphere, but the adult Priscilla is never really fleshed out, the second half sadly fragments as Priscilla gradually drifts away, dissatisfied and disillusioned, which is a pity because this is a gorgeously crafted love story sumptuously detailing a young girl’s heartthrob in early sixties America. And, growing up in that era, to me it all feels so real. MT
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