It was hard to be online in 2022 without seeing pictures and videos of Austin Butler’s take on Elvis Presley, a movie aptly titled “Elvis” for its focus on the rock ’n’ roll megastar’s rise and fall.
Few people talk about “Priscilla,” both the movie and the forgotten woman in Elvis’s life. Elvis Presley is undeniably an American icon of music, film and pop culture — but the Elvis renaissance of 2022 cast aside many dark aspects of his life, aspects which left undeniable, lasting impacts on those around him.
“Priscilla” tells the story of the marriage between Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieau-Presley. While Baz Lurhman’s biopic glosses over the questionable parts of their love affair, director Sofia Coppola embraces it in full force.
The story was adapted from Beaulieau-Presley’s 1985 biography “Elvis and Me,” following the 14-year love affair between herself and the King. Fourteen is an important number in this story as it was Priscilla’s age when she first met and was pursued by Elvis.
More than just an Elvis exposé, “Priscilla” is the story of finding yourself as a young woman in an abusive relationship. It offers a fresh perspective on the biopic genre by telling the story of a woman often forgotten. The film runs from start to finish with beautiful cinematography, sound and performances.
Cailee Spaeny, who plays the titular character, perfectly embodies the innocence of childhood while falling for the most famous man in the world. Her demure, soft voice and petite character are perfectly juxtaposed with Jacob Elordi’s extreme height as Elvis.
Following the Elvis renaissance led by Baz Luhrman’s 2022 biopic, “Priscilla” could not have come at a better time. Luhrman’s retelling focused on the glamor and theatricality of Elvis’ life, glossing over the problematic aspects, including how Elvis stole music from Black musicians and pursued a relationship with a teenage girl.
“Elvis” portrays Priscilla like many women in history — the passive, soft-spoken, agreeable bride — until the end of their marriage. Rarely do we see Priscilla outside of a conversation with Elvis.
It’s true that “Elvis” is meant to focus on Elvis’ life and his relationship with his manager Colonel Parker, but a biopic just shy of three hours fails to give Priscilla any real autonomy.
“Elvis” casts her as nothing more than an accessory.
Priscilla met Elvis when she was 14-years-old and moved into Graceland with him before her 18th birthday. Throughout “Priscilla,” we see a young girl struggling with a sense of identity in a world that defines her by her relationship with such a famous figure.
She even struggles to define herself as an individual. Elvis is constantly asserting his power over her — choosing what she wears and how she does her makeup — and throws a chair at her when she verbalizes disagreement.
By the end of the movie, it’s hard not to feel suffocated. Watching Priscilla leave Graceland at the end of the movie feels like a breath of fresh air, the start of a new life.
So is “Elvis” or “Priscilla” the best retelling of this American love story? There’s not one answer. They were created to tell separate stories. But “Priscilla” tells the story often forgotten, a story of girlhood, growing up and the dark sides of fame.
For that reason, “Priscilla” is a more necessary story than “Elvis.” Very few live a life comparable to that of Elvis, but many young women can relate to the story of an abusive partner who may have taken advantage of their age and innocence.