'Priscilla' review: Sofia Coppola dares to show the Elvis fans have ignored

Why the movie starring Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi is the version of Elvis we needed to see

Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in Priscilla, from filmmaker Sofia Coppola (Elevation Pictures)
Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in Priscilla, from filmmaker Sofia Coppola (Elevation Pictures)

Sofia Coppola's Priscilla, starring Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi, takes what may have initially seemed like a fairytale love story and dives into exactly why Priscilla Presley needed to forge her own path, away from Elvis.

Where to watch Priscilla: In theatres Nov. 3
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Dominczyk, Tim Post, Lynne Griffin
Runtime: 113 minutes

What is 'Priscilla' about?

Inspired by the 1985 novel "Elvis and Me: The True Story of the Love Between Priscilla Presley and the King of Rock N' Roll," Priscilla chronicles the ups and downs of the romantic relationship between the Presleys, beginning when 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu first met the 24-year-old singer in Germany, while he was in the army, in 1959.

Initially meeting at a house party, Priscilla's adoration for Elvis transforms into something more romantic, and Elvis starts opening up to her more and more about his personal life.

When they move back to the U.S., Elvis to his home in Memphis and Priscilla to her family home in Texas, they stay in contact. Eventually, Priscilla's parents consent to her moving to Memphis to finish high school at a private Catholic school, while living at Graceland, before they get married.

Where Priscilla differs from other retellings of Priscilla and Elvis' relationship is that Coppola's film, always leading from Priscilla's perspective, shows the manipulative side of Elvis. From Elvis giving her a pill during her first visit to Memphis, to dictating what he believed she should wear, and the emotional, and eventually physical, abuse.

Why 'Priscilla' is the version of Elvis we needed to see

Exploring a young woman's loneliness has become a particular marker of much of Coppola's working, from The Virgin Suicides, to Marie Antoinette and The Bling Ring, and that is very much present in Priscilla.

Priscilla herself has frequently stressed the amount of love she had for Elvis, calling him the love of her life at a press conference during the Venice Film Festival. There was clearly a sensitivity to him that Elvis was comfortable exposing to Priscilla.

That being said, when you have a relationship where a young girl is plucked out of obscurity to be with one of the most famous figures in the country, that power imbalance causes problems, and Priscilla doesn't shy away from exposing that.

The film very much shows Elvis' manipulative ways, his destructive ego, and it does feel like, when Priscilla moves to Graceland, she's trapped in the bubble of the king of rock n' roll, becoming both mentally and physically draining.

Aesthetically Coppola, along with cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, created an absolutely beautiful film, with a dream-like quality to the look, while leaning into the moments in Priscilla's life that maybe seemed more like a nightmare.

Unable to use Elvis' music, Phoenix, the band led by Coppola's husband Thomas Mars, created the soundtrack for the film. Every song feels particularly intentional and fully right for the moment, including the use of Dolly Parton’s "I Will Always Love You."

Additionally, Graceland in the film looks incredibly similar to the real place, even though it was recreated on soundstages in Toronto.

Spaeny as Priscilla is able to capture a real delicateness in the character, all while in glamorous clothing and hairstyles, and perfectly winged eyeliner, but there's a real vulnerability that comes through in her performance. That's paired with a level of confidence that comes through as the film comes to an end.

Die-hard Elvis fans may not be particularly pleased with this perspective on the late star, having a bit of a bitter pill to swallow in terms of his relationship with Priscilla. But the reality is that putting celebrities on a pedestal can often come with a harsh reality check.