Premiering at Venice Film Festival, the latest film from acclaimed writer-director Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation) is an adaptation of Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir Elvis And Me. It’s executive produced by Presley herself, so it’s no surprise that Coppola’s script stays largely faithful to the source material.
The story begins in 1959, when 14 year-old Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) is introduced to Elvis (Euphoria‘s Jacob Elordi) while he’s stationed in West Germany for military service. Elvis courts Priscilla, and eventually moves her into his Memphis home, but he insists that they refrain from having sex until their wedding night, leaving Priscilla both frustrated and confused.
As their relationship moves into the ’60s and ’70s, various patterns of controlling and manipulative behaviour emerge, from Elvis supplying Priscilla with pills, to conducting multiple affairs (while still not sleeping with his wife), to him asking her to choose between having her own career or being his wife. It’s also made clear that Elvis could have violent moments – “I’ve got my mamma’s temper”, he says, after throwing a chair at her).
As the film’s abrupt but satisfying conclusion indicates, Coppola explicitly frames the story as Priscilla’s escape from a toxic and abusive relationship. To that end, it’s fascinating to watch the story unfold from Priscilla’s perspective, since Elvis has largely been portrayed in a positive light on screen until now, and there are aspects of their relationship that are likely to surprise anyone not previously familiar with her life story.
Spaeny is superb as Priscilla, making you feel every painful aspect of her emotional journey, from infatuation and initial confusion through to heartbreak and finally self-discovery. Similarly, Elordi makes a terrific Elvis, capturing the King’s powerful charisma and making the performance seem somehow effortless, rather than a finely calibrated impression. He also sparks touching chemistry with Spaeny in the early scenes, especially in their initial encounter, where they bond over being homesick for Texas.
Coppola’s decision to portray the central relationship as essentially claustrophobic and dark leads to a couple of directorial choices that almost backfire. These include the fact that none of the supporting characters are really fleshed out (we never even see Colonel Tom Parker, previously played by Tom Hanks in last year’s Elvis), underlining Priscilla’s isolation, and also the lighting choices, with a large number of indoor sequences taking place in deep shadow. That’s especially frustrating, because it leaves you wanting more colour, particularly in the otherwise gorgeous production design and costumes.
On a similar note, Coppola packs the film with a number of standout details and moments, most notably: a shot of Priscilla’s matching guns and outfits being laid out on her bed; a signature shot of a pink chandelier, during Elvis and Priscilla’s apparently one and only acid trip; and a lovely throwaway scene whereby she uses her Elvis connection to copy off a student’s paper in an exam.
True to form, Coppola’s soundtrack choices prove the icing on an already delicious cake – highlights include a slowed down acoustic version of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, a hula number that plays during the wedding sequence and a pitch-perfect final needle-drop that is basically a huge Easter egg for Elvis nerds and is worth looking up afterwards.
- Director: Sofia Coppola
- Starring: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen
- Release date: December 26 (in UK cinemas)