When Baz Luhrmann’s much-hyped Elvis film came out in 2022, it couldn’t have felt further from a traditional biopic. Shot in the director’s signature kaleidoscopic style, it portrayed the King as an indelibly flawed human as much as a symbolic figure through which to tell the history of America. “I felt like the storytelling in terms of my job was to be able to bring an audience into the period and the time of culture in America. It’s what Elvis is experiencing but also how American culture perceived him,” the film’s cinematographer, Mandy Walker, told CR at the time.
Whether intended to or not, Sofia Coppola’s new film Priscilla feels like a direct retort to the grandiosity of Luhrmann’s interpretation. Despite being the symbolic queen of American rock ’n’ roll and long-time love of Elvis, her story has long been eclipsed by the talent and tragedy of his. “Priscilla was mainly seen in the world of entertainment tabloids as ‘Elvis’ child bride’ but I felt there was a much more interesting story to tell,” says the director. “About a girlish wish that came true but wasn’t what she imagined, about coming-of-age inside both incredible fame and great loneliness. Elvis was such a vital part of American cultural history, but Priscilla’s life is equally part of that history.”
Coppola is well known for her distinctive take on the female gaze, as seen in her directorial debut The Virgin Suicides (1999), The Beguiled (2017), and Marie Antoinette (2006). Just as her biopic of the queen of France highlighted the extravagance of Versailles through the eyes of a naïve child, the director’s interpretation of Priscilla’s story allowed her to pose the question: what would it be like to enter Elvis’ Graceland estate as a girl, and leave as a woman?