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Sofia Coppola's drama about Priscilla and Elvis

Fans of Elvis Presley might not like this movie as much: In "Priscilla", Sofia Coppola focuses on the often toxic love life between the King of Rock'n'Roll and his wife.

Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) and Elvis (Jacob Elordi) got married in 1967.
Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) and Elvis (Jacob Elordi) got married in 1967.

Biopic - Sofia Coppola's drama about Priscilla and Elvis

Perhaps there is a dark side to every success story. In the case of Elvis Presley, this is probably his relationship behavior. More specifically: His relationship 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 their love life, which Sofia Coppola has now turned into a movie. It is about controlling behavior, manipulation, suspected affairs - but also about a deep bond.

Coppola tells the love story of the two from the moment they meet until they break up. As we have come to expect from the Oscar winner, the drama revels in melancholy. The 52-year-old uses light, music, costumes and set design in her usual masterful way.

The story of an abusive relationship

Priscilla lived in Germany at the end of the 1950s, as her stepfather was stationed in Wiesbaden as an officer. 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. After initial resistance from Priscilla's parents, the two became close. In the end, Priscilla was allowed to move in with Elvis alone in Memphis as a teenager and graduate from high school there. The two married in 1967 and divorced in 1973.

The film, produced by the streaming service Mubi, shows the special connection the two must have felt. But it also shows how abusive everyday life was from Priscilla's point of view. It gives the impression that Elvis treated his teenage girlfriend as a kind of doll.

There are scenes like this: Elvis constantly taking sleeping pills and stimulants and offering them to Priscilla. Who spends weeks on film shoots and makes headlines with alleged affairs. Who tells Priscilla what clothes she should wear and what make-up she should use. Who suggests she take a break from the relationship when she is heavily pregnant, only to reject the idea shortly afterwards. Who forbids her to work (after all, she has to be available when he calls) or to bring friends home to the Graceland estate.

A movie for lovers of pop music history

Priscilla seems like a prisoner in a beautiful cage. The interiors of Graceland, where most of the movie takes place (albeit as a recreated set), are sumptuously furnished. Coppola uses many beautiful details to create atmosphere. A crackling record playing a lilting 50s tune, sprayed hairspray and applied lipstick - you are as immersed in this world as Priscilla's painted toenails in the plush carpeting.

Priscilla is very passive for a long time, and the movie flows slowly rather than building up any great tension. "Priscilla" is a good movie for people who value atmosphere and visuals - and anyone interested in pop music history. In a way, the drama is the counterpart to the biopic "Elvis" by Baz Luhrmann, in which the relationship between the two only played a minor role. The latter is 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 gigs.

Sofia Coppola: What it was like working with Priscilla

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 dpa: "It was such a personal, intimate story. I asked her questions and never wanted to be too nosy or too personal. But I had to ask some personal questions. And I think it was hard for her to relive the last phase (of the relationship), because I'm sure it would be hard for anyone to relive a big breakup, even after all this time."

Coppola contacted Priscilla and asked if she would be open to the idea of a movie. The 78-year-old hesitated at first, but finally agreed. She was on hand to offer advice. "But she also gave me the freedom to make the movie the way I wanted to," said Coppola. She never came to the set, for example.

Despite all the negative anecdotes, Priscilla Presley still 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 might be irritating for some. Coppola told dpa: "I wanted to respect how she saw the relationship and then portray it truthfully. And I really tried not to judge and just show her experience." Now the audience can make up their own minds.

Priscilla, USA/Italy 2023, 113 min., FSK from 16 years, by Sofia Coppola, with Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi

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