Standing just outside Elvis’ glow 

Published 11:25 am Tuesday, December 5, 2023

This week at Tryon Theatre, “Priscilla” steps into her own spotlight. “Priscilla” is a highly praised film from writer/director Sofia Coppola, adapting the cinematic narrative from Priscilla Presley’s own memoirs. Coppola has long portrayed emotionally isolated women in her films, women longing for a connection and reciprocity of understanding, and with Priscilla Presely, Coppola has found her ideal subject: a perfect individual encapsulation of longing, self-discovery and defiance. The film’s lead performance from Cailee Spaeny further perfects this artistic venture, as she brilliantly inhabits the young Priscilla on the cusp of adulthood, containing all the brimming complexity therein. 

In many ways, “Priscilla” is a passion project for Coppola, who also produced the film alongside its writing and direction. Coppola, a laudable artistic talent in her own right, has an empathetic understanding of a woman whose experience was subsumed to that of a man in her life. Sofia has had her entire career viewed only through the lens of her father’s achievements, the admittedly legendary Francis Ford Coppola. And while relation to such a talent of course has its professional advantages, any meritable artist, like Sofia, nonetheless deserves individual recognition. However, that lack of credit is not without its benefit to the audience, as Sofia’s experience of living in another’s shadow has provided beautiful and empathetic insight into Priscilla’s own life, one lived in the shadow of Elvis’ celebrity. 

“Priscilla” is not about Elvis. Elvis is a central and inseparable character in Priscilla’s story, but a supporting character all the same. The talented Jacob Elordi fills those shiny shoes, and does a phenomenal job with the character. However, this Elvis portrayed is not the one on stage, but the one behind closed doors. This is the vulnerable and unfiltered Elvis of Priscilla’s world, not the bold and performative Elvis of the rest of the world. This film does make use of any of Elvis’s music, with the score reflecting Priscilla’s emotional state, rather than his celebrity. 

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Priscilla’s emotional state is truly the connecting thread of the film. As an adaptation of Priscilla Presley’s memoirs, this film plot does not follow a biographical impulse of highlighting historical significance. To have done so would largely be to organize Priscilla’s experience in the terms of Elvis’s milestones, as his career lent the greatest historical significance to either of the lives. Rather, Priscilla Presley’s own memoirs are focused on her own individual emotional experience, the milestones of sentiment and clarity in regards to both her partner and herself.

“Priscialla” provides us with an intimate and insightful portrait of a very real person, so rarely seen as one. We hope you will join us for this honest, heartfelt and beautiful film.