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Priscilla Presley at the Venice Film Festival



Read Rehna’s Priscilla Review

Priscilla Presley was a gracious presence at the Venice Film Festival this week. The movie about her relationship with and marriage to Elvis Presley premiered on Monday, and the team behind it, including Priscilla, an executive producer, had obtained special dispensation from SAF-AFTRA to promote it.

Priscilla attended the press conference, where she broke down in tears when asked what it was like to see her life on the screen. She said she had liked the ending the most, and Sofia had done an incredible job. She spoke about first meeting Elvis when she was 14 and he was 24 and repeated what she has always said, that everyone brings up the question of sex, but it wasn’t about that; it was a special connection they forged. She has always said that they didn’t have sex until after their marriage when she was 21, and the film depicts his insistence on this and her frustration about the decision, not his. She described Elvis as being sweet and kind to her when they met.

After the press conference, she patiently signed autographs and took selfies with fans in the blazing sun for half an hour. When her assistant suggested she might want to leave, she declined, saying, in her soft voice, that she was happy to carry on. I was inches from her for a long while and saw close up that, while she has the telltale signs of cosmetic procedures, she still retains the draw of her immense youthful beauty. It is clouded now, too, by an air of sadness. Understandably. In the past two years alone, she has lost a grandson, a mother and recently her daughter.

Later in the evening, she cut a tiny but elegant figure in black on the red carpet as she joined director Sofia Coppola, Cailee Spaeny, who plays her in the film and an ebullient Jacob Elordi, who plays Elvis. The premiere screening received a seven-minute ovation, and the festival reviews have been positive. What the general studies, when the film opens, and public reaction will be, is another matter. I had seen the film at a packed press screening earlier in the morning. After the screening, a quick straw poll of those around me revealed middling views about it.

A film about Priscilla Presley has been made before. It was for television and was based on her book Elvis and Me. Coppola’s film is also based on the book. The project was always an intriguing prospect, a movie from Priscilla’s perspective, made by Sofia Coppola, whose cousin Nicholas Cage was once married to Elvis and Priscilla’s daughter, Lisa Marie. That it follows so quickly on the heels of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is both a help and a hindrance. It is helpful because the Elvis world is still fresh in people’s minds and a burden because comparisons are inevitable.

No doubt about it, Priscilla Presley has had an exciting life. She is an intelligent, beautiful, articulate woman who, in the 1980s, had a successful acting career and has had a string of business ventures over the years, too. Her lovers included Robert Kardashian, father of Kim & Co. She has featured in some of the most iconic photographs in entertainment history.

But let’s not pretend two films of her life have been made for any reason other than that she was married to the most prominent-selling solo artist in rock music history, a man who changed popular culture forever and whose colossal impact on music and style can be seen in musicians from The Beatles to Freddie Mercury, Brandon Flowers to Alex Turner.

Here are the bald facts: Elvis and Priscilla were together for 13 years and married for 5. They had one daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who, sadly, died in January this year, aged just 54. After the divorce, Priscilla reverted to her maiden name, which came from her stepfather. She began using Presley again after the death of Elvis in 1977. She was and remains a polarising figure within the Elvis fandom. Some see her as the keeper of the Elvis flame, who helped turn the ailing Graceland estate into the second most visited house in the USA after the White House and a multi-million dollar business.

Others see her as a self-serving wannabe who has used his name for the fame and fortune she always craved. Some disagree with her version of Elvis’s history. However, with the death of Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla remains one of the few surviving direct links to Elvis Presley and, therefore, an essential chapter in American cultural history. The vast and hugely loyal Elvis fandom powered Baz Luhrman’s biopic of the king to an incredible box office of just under $300 million last year. Will they support Sofia Coppola’s take on his ex-wife’s story?

It’s unlikely that, despite the early positive reviews, this film will enjoy the Luhrmann film’s commercial success, which received a rapturous 12-minute standing ovation at Cannes. Priscilla is more like Spencer, the 2021 film about Diana, Princess of Wales. That had glowing festival reviews at Cannes but less enthusiastic ones from general critics when it opened, and it failed to connect with the public, earning just $25 million worldwide. However, Kristen Stewart was widely nominated for awards. I like Elvis, I like Priscilla. I wish I had licked this film more, but I didn’t.

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