Perhaps every success story has a dark side. In the case of Elvis Presley, this might be his relationship behavior. More specifically: dealing with his wife of several years, Priscilla, as she describes it.
The King of Rock'n'Roll was married to the now 78-year-old from 1967 to 1973. Priscilla once wrote a book about her love life, and now Sofia Coppola has made a film out of it. It's about controlling behavior, manipulation, suspected affairs - but also about a deep connection.
Coppola tells the love story of the two from the moment they met until the separation. As one would expect from the Oscar winner, the drama indulges in melancholy. As usual, the 52-year-old uses light, music, costumes and set design masterfully.
The story of an abusive relationship
Priscilla lived in Germany in the late 1950s because her stepfather was stationed as an officer in Wiesbaden. Elvis was also doing military service there at the time. The two met in Bad Nauheim in 1959, when Priscilla was only 14 years old. Elvis was ten years older. The two became closer after initial resistance from Priscilla's parents. Finally, as a teenager, Priscilla was allowed to move alone to Elvis in Memphis and graduate from high school there. The two married in 1967 and divorced in 1973.
The film, produced by the streaming service Mubi, shows what a special connection the two felt. But also how abusive everyday life was from Priscilla's perspective. The impression is that Elvis treated his teenage girlfriend as a kind of doll.
There are scenes like this: Elvis, who constantly takes sleeping and stimulant pills and also offers them to Priscilla. Who is on film shoots for weeks and makes headlines with alleged affairs. Who tells Priscilla what clothes she should wear and what makeup she should use. Who suggests that she take a break from the relationship when she is heavily pregnant and then rejects the idea shortly afterwards. Who forbids her from working (after all, she has to be available when he calls) or from bringing friends home to the Graceland estate.
A film for lovers of pop music history
Priscilla seems like a prisoner in a beautiful cage. The interiors of Graceland, where most of the film takes place (albeit as a recreated set), are sumptuously furnished. Coppola uses a lot of beautiful details to create a mood. A crackling record playing an indulgent 1950s melody, sprayed hairspray and applied lipstick - you're as immersed in this world as Priscilla's painted toenails in the plush carpet.
Priscilla is very passive for a long time, and the film flows slowly rather than building up much tension. "Priscilla" is a good film for people who value atmosphere and visuals - and anyone who is interested in pop music history. The drama is, in a sense, the counterpart to the biopic “Elvis” by Baz Luhrmann, in which the relationship between the two only played a minor role. It's about other abusive behavior, this time with Elvis as the victim: His manager enriched himself excessively from the profits and motivated Elvis to perform an exhausting number of appearances.
Sofia Coppola: That's what working with Priscilla was like
But now the time has come to look at Priscilla's perspective. Coppola worked closely with her on the film. The director described this process to the dpa: "It was such a personal, intimate story. I asked her questions and never wanted to get too curious or too personal. But I had to ask some personal questions. And I think it was difficult for her "To relive the final phase (of the relationship) because I'm sure it would be hard for anyone to relive a major breakup, even after all this time."
Coppola contacted Priscilla and asked if she would be open to the idea of a film. The 78-year-old hesitated at first, but finally agreed. She was there to give advice. "But she also gave me the freedom to make the film the way I wanted to make it," Coppola said. She never came to the set either.
To this day, despite all the negative anecdotes, Priscilla Presley emphasizes her loving feelings for her famous ex-husband, who died in 1977. “He was the love of my life,” she said at the Venice Film Festival in September. An ambivalence that may be irritating for some. Coppola told dpa: "I wanted to respect how she sees the relationship and then portray it truthfully. And I really tried not to judge and just show her experiences." Now the audience can form their own opinion.
Priscilla, USA/Italy 2023, 113 min., FSK for ages 16 and up, by Sofia Coppola, with Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi