Weekend Woman:Priscilla Presley

Priscilla Presley was a gracious presence at the Venice film festival this week. The movie of her relationship with and marriage to Elvis Presley premiered on Monday and the team behind it, including Priscilla who is executive producer, had obtained special dispensation from SAF -AFTRA to be able to promote it. 

Priscilla attended the press conference, where she broke down in tears when asked what it was like to see her life up 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 was 21 and the film depicts his insistence on this and her, not his, frustration about the decision. 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, out in the blazing sun, for a good half 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 the immense beauty she had when younger. It is clouded now, too, by an air of sadness. Understandably. In the past two years alone she has lost a grandson, 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 reviews, when the film opens and public reaction will be is another matter.

I had seen the film earlier in the morning, at a packed press screening. After the screening a quick straw poll of those around me revealed middling views about it. My own review is below.

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 film 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 hinderance. Helpful because the Elvis world is still fresh in people’s minds and a hinderance because comparisons are inevitable.

Priscilla through the years

No doubt about it, Priscilla Presley has had an  interesting 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 and 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 biggest 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 the 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 exploited his name for the fame and fortune she always craved. There are many who disagree with her version of Elvis history. However, with the death of Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla remains one of the few surviving direct links to Elvis and therefore an important chapter in American cultural history.

The huge 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 be as supportive of Sofia Coppola’s take on his ex-wife’s story?


It’s also unlikely that, despite the early positive reviews, this film will enjoy the commercial success of the Luhrmann film which received a rapturous 12 minute standing ovation at Cannes. Priscilla is more in the vein of 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, although Kristen Stewart was widely nominated for awards.

I like Elvis, I like Priscilla. I wish I had liked this film  more – but I didn’t.