Sophia Coppola’s “Priscilla” reveals the untold story of Elvis’s marriage

Sophia Coppola’s Priscilla (2023) is based on the memoir Elvis and Me (1985) by Priscilla Presley. The film focuses on the private moments within the marriage, giving viewers a different perspective of their relationship than what was portrayed in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis (2022).

Elvis Presley is considered the “king of rock and roll,” and has had a lasting impact on music, so it makes sense why fans from his generation and newer listeners were interested to see Luhrmann’s biopicture of the legend. So, why see Priscilla? Priscilla Presley became more noticed by the public following Elvis’s death in 1977, and has also gained recent attention from the movie released last year about her late husband. The two films have completely different styles and messages, creating space for both films to flourish. 

Coppola masterfully uses imagery over dialogue to communicate emotion, and explores how the young Priscilla was affected by dating a mega pop star. The actress, Caelli Spaney, beautifully portrays the emotional journey of a star-struck 14 year old to a neglected wife. The camera often stays on Spaney’s face for longer periods of time where she communicates a wave of emotions through just her expression. One scene that does this successfully is at the dinner table after Elvis returned to Graceland from shooting a movie. With the lack of dialogue, Spaney expresses how Priscilla feels happy that Elvis returned home and wants to engage in conversation with “The Memphis Mafia” (a group of men that followed Elvis around), but is not sure how and ultimately feels a little out of place.

Although 24-year-old Elvis started dating Priscilla when she was 14, the movie illustrates the relationship as a true love affair, rather than predatory or manipulative. The movie is shot from how Priscilla remembers her experiences, regardless of the controversies within their relationship.

Luhrmann’s biopicture dives into Elvis’s career that is already familiar to most people; while this side of Elvis is interesting and important to his life, Coppola’s film takes a unique angle and fleshes out moments between Elvis and Priscilla that were mere details in Luhrmannn’s film.

Each director’s filming style matched the lives of the people they were depicting. Coppola’s longer shots, vintage pastel cinematography, and absence of constant dialogue or music in Priscilla create a slow and subtle feel to the movie- perfectly mirroring Pirscilla’s role in her husband’s life. Lurhmann’s loud, fast paced, and vibrant filming of Elvis match the experience of his career.

People online have been comparing Jacob Elordi’s portrayal of Elvis in Priscilla and Austin Butler’s Oscar-nominating performance in Elvis. Elordi comments on the comparisons during an interview with E! News, saying “I don’t know why people make art a blood sport.” Elordi’s approach to preparing for the role was more laid back than Butler’s, consisting of listening to Elvis’s records and watching his performances to nail the southern drawl and mannerisms. Butler, on the other hand, spent years embodying the personality of Elvis and studying the development of his voice and style. Both methods of preparation paid off as they portrayed Elvis appropriately for each film’s demand. 

I recommend that viewers see Elvis before Priscilla. The story of Elvis’s performing career will give more context for the moments of Priscilla’s frustration with Elvis that are portrayed in Coppola’s film. I highly recommend watching both to learn about the ups and downs of fame through the perspective of two different people.

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