Priscilla review: “Nice” Elvis has left the building

Jasmine Valentine
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Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 mind-bender Elvis set up The King’s relationship with his Colonel, but Sofia Coppola’s 2023 reply Priscilla delves deeper into the Presley marriage – and a new side of Elvis altogether.

It’s unsurprising that the Elvis estate has repeatedly refuted – and raged against – any involvement with Coppola’s film. Where Luhrmann painted him as a naturally talented champion and victim of a merciless industry, Coppola portrays a selfish, too-big-for-his-boots man-child who regularly got violent when throwing his toys out of the pram.

Elvis fans would be quick to say that this is an over-zealous fictionalized version of his character if it wasn’t for the film being based on Priscilla Presley’s memoir. Just as she dutifully did rounds of press for Luhrmann’s film, she’s appeared to have just as much support for the movie with her own name. This time around, she’s understandably quieter and more subdued, with perfectly reflects the Priscilla Cailee Spaeny presents viewers with onscreen.

Though she won Best Actress for the role at the Venice Film Festival, it’s quite tricky to understand why. Fictional Presley hits exactly the notes she needs to, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable – or memorable – about the way she does it. This could be an intentional way to drive home the submissive shadow that Presley allegedly was in her own marriage, taking on responsibility much too expansive for her years. But it also highlights the thread that runs through the film as a whole: it’s just not a particular standout.

Is Sofia Coppola the film’s real star?

In short, the answer is yes. Much like Coppola’s existing body of work, which includes The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation, and Marie Antoinette, her biggest storytelling is in her sense of worldbuilding rather than a human-centric dynamic. Whether it’s through the immaculate replica of Graceland, Priscilla’s evolving sense of fashion or choosing to focus on what the Presleys eat, watch, or gravitate to, Coppola’s sense of cinema tells viewers more than any one person could.

One particular detail that stands out is the soundtrack, which doesn’t feature a single Elvis hit. Though some found this disconcerting before Priscilla was released, it’s a move that makes logical sense – why would Elvis and his friends be listening to his own music while hanging out by the pool? The moments that need Presley’s back catalog find a way to have them, with live TV performances re-enacted or the emphasis being shifted onto the songs he didn’t pick. Nowhere is this better utilized that Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You as Priscilla drives away from Graceland for good – a song Parton refused to let Elvis sing because of his management.

What’s most enjoyable and reassuring about Coppola’s guidance is how obviously rooted the film is in facts. Though this might be Priscilla’s truth instead of a universal truth, the overhanging sense of loneliness, naivety, and under-age innocence is so grounded that it can only stem from a real person’s memories. The Presley marriage has remained so high-profile that every stranger has their own opinion formed of it, and Priscilla will undoubtedly sway the minds of those who have been staunchly against her.

The not-so nice Elvis the world was waiting for


While the overall sense of story is well built, the detail in the character-led drama frequently flies under that radar. It’s neither bad nor good, but Coppola’s take on the Presley marriage largely results in indifference. As Priscilla is such a soft-spoken and often docile person, it’s possible that this is collateral damage that was bound to happen regardless of who picked up the story. However, this is arguably heightened by Coppola’s trademark directorial whimsy and focus on the bigger picture.

When tensions do flare, the intrigue presents itself more in the form of Elvis than Priscilla. Throwing a chair at her when he doesn’t like her answer to a question, frequently gaslighting her moments after scolding in a fit of rage, or just flat-out ignoring her, Elvis has turned into the horror of a lover many viewers will recognize from their own lives. If he was on Tinder, he’d be roasted online through screenshots of his messages in a heartbeat. This darker side of Elvis feels like a secret that the world has already known about, and it’s finally come to the forefront.

For some this will be shocking, for others merely confirmation of the facts they’re familiar with. Priscilla was only 14 when she met Elvis, eventually moving to Memphis from East Germany to be with him aged 16. The film chronicles their time together from first meeting to Priscilla telling Elvis she wants a divorce, and somehow their marriage stays exactly the same throughout. Both remain clueless in similar ways, both are in too far over their heads – and both really don’t have any idea about how much hard work love actually is.

Priscilla review score: 3/5

On paper, Priscilla should be a knockout film, yet the largely subdued and subtle tones of Coppola’s filmmaking work against the true-life story to make it forgettable.

When viewers look back at the history of films about Elvis, they’ll remember the moments where he was King of the world, or being quietly conned into a never-ending Las Vegas residency. They are less likely to remember how he treated his wife during their 6 years of marriage – which is a sad reflection of the world said viewers are still living in.

Priscilla will premiere in cinemas on November 3, 2023. Check out more of our movies & TV content here.

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About The Author

Jasmine Valentine is a TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's the go-to source for all things Young Sheldon, as well as many Netflix originals. Jasmine has also written for the likes of Total Film, The Daily Beast, and Radio Times. You can email her here: