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Foreshadowing #metoo: Baroness Thornton reviews Sofia Coppola's 'Priscilla'

Priscilla Presley played by Cailee Spaeny

Baroness Thornton

Baroness Thornton

3 min read

Visually beautiful and inescapably sad, this story of how a young girl was groomed and abused by a powerful older man does not let Elvis off the hook

This is a film about a young girl who is groomed and abused by a rich, powerful, drug-addicted, much older, controlling, philandering man called Elvis Presley. It is based on Priscilla Presley’s book Elvis and Me, published in 1985. Priscilla was an executive producer on the film, working under director Sofia Coppola, another dynastic name from Hollywood. Priscilla was not the only teenage girl Elvis ensnared over the years.

Priscilla met Elvis in 1959. She was 14, at school, and living with her parents on a military base in Germany. Staying close by, Elvis was 24 and a soldier in the army. The two dated for six months before he returned to the USA but they stayed in touch. Eventually Priscilla’s parents agreed to let their daughter go live in Memphis, where Elvis had his home. In Memphis she was to complete her schooling while nominally living with Elvis’ family and Priscilla moved into Graceland with Elvis.

It seems having a 15/16 year-old girl living in the home of a man 10 years her senior was somehow acceptable if that man was Elvis Presley. What were her parents thinking?

Cailee Spaeny captures Priscilla’s naivety and innocence wonderfully. I would say this young woman has a great career ahead of her.

In parts it brilliantly conveys late 1950s and early 1960s America

Priscilla wrote in her book: “Elvis taught me everything: how to dress, how to walk, how to apply makeup and wear my hair, how to behave, how to return love – his way. Over the years he became my father, husband, and very nearly God.”

And this is exactly what this film portrays as happening to Priscilla as she grew up. It was only after they married and she had a baby Priscilla realised how her life would be if she stayed with Elvis. Now as an “older woman” – 21 when they married, 22 when she had a baby – she was no longer all that attractive to her husband.

PriscillaThus, Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship ended ignominiously, with what on the screen looked like marital rape, and certainly her book suggests that was the case. Nevertheless what we see, finally, is a young woman being strong, taking matters into her own hands, leaving and divorcing Elvis. Bravo Priscilla. Though perhaps not moving too far from the business interests of “The King”. 

Despite the inescapable sadness of the film, it is visually beautiful, and in parts brilliantly conveys late 1950s and early 1960s America with its over-the-top, enormous winged cars, beehive hair being set under elongated drying hoods, wonderful clothes, rock n’ roll music and everybody smoking.

With echoes of Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein, Elvis Presley was one of a generation of powerful rich men in the public eye who abused women and girls over many decades and who have only recently been called to account. This film does not let him off the hook. 

Baroness Thornton is a Labour peer and shadow women, equalities & culture spokesperson

Priscilla
Written and directed by: Sofia Coppola
Venue: General cinema release

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