The story of Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s romance is a tale that seems almost too fantastical to be true. In the new movie “Priscilla,” directed by Oscar-winning writer-director Sofia Coppola, the intricate facets of their relationship are portrayed, offering a glimpse into the complexities of their love story. Elvis, the biggest celebrity on the planet, and Priscilla, a shy teenage girl, found themselves entangled in a whirlwind romance that took Priscilla away from her parents and plunged her into Elvis’s chaotic world. Their journey began when they met in 1959, with Priscilla at the tender age of 14 and Elvis at 24. This age gap fueled the fascination and gossip surrounding their relationship.
“He became my father, husband, and very nearly God,” Priscilla explained in her 1985 memoir, “Elvis and Me.” Despite Elvis’s numerous faults, Priscilla was willing to overlook them due to her overwhelming love for him. She admits that she was “blinded by love.” In “Priscilla,” Sofia Coppola delves into the complex dynamics of their relationship, exploring the highs and lows that defined their 14 years together.
Elvis and Priscilla’s Initial Meeting
Elvis’s introduction to Priscilla Beaulieu occurred in 1959 in West Germany. Priscilla’s stepfather served as a U.S. Air Force captain, and Elvis, who had been drafted into the U.S. Army in 1957, was stationed nearby. This chance meeting at a party marked the beginning of their connection, although initially, it was a chaste romance. Priscilla recalls being more of a listener, as Elvis would pour his heart out to her.
Following Elvis’s discharge from the Army in 1960, he maintained contact with Priscilla through phone conversations for two years before inviting her to visit him in the United States. Priscilla made two trips to the U.S., which gave her a front-row seat to Elvis’s extravagant lifestyle, including trips to Las Vegas and his reliance on prescription medications.
Ultimately, Elvis invited Priscilla to live with him at Graceland, his mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. However, this decision required significant persuasion as they had to convince her reluctant parents. Priscilla moved to Graceland with the caveat that she initially lived with Elvis’s father and stepmother, Vernon and Dee, who resided nearby.
Becoming Elvis’s “Doll”
In the daytime, Priscilla was a student at the local all-girls high school, but by night, she was Elvis’s pupil. Elvis took on the role of her mentor, teaching her everything from how to dress and walk to applying makeup and styling her hair. Priscilla described herself as Elvis’s “doll,” his living, breathing doll that he molded according to his desires.
Elvis and Priscilla embarked on lavish shopping sprees, during which he lavished her with gifts. These moments also unveiled Elvis’s moody side, where he insisted on solid colors and discouraged Priscilla from cutting her hair. Any deviation from his preferences led to corrections, a testament to his strong-willed personality.
Elvis’s Temper and Dark Moments
The movie “Priscilla” does not shy away from depicting Elvis’s temper, which was sometimes explosive. One scene in the film portrays a playful pillow fight turning violent due to Elvis’s reliance on prescription medications like quaaludes and Dexedrine. Priscilla reported sustaining a black eye, a bruised arm, and a growing concern that Elvis had developed an addiction.
Priscilla played an active role in bringing the story to life, and according to the movie’s producer, Youree Henry, she collaborated closely with Sofia Coppola. They meticulously went through the script, ensuring that it authentically represented the events from Priscilla’s perspective.
Romantic Life on Elvis’s Terms
Priscilla remains steadfast in her claim that Elvis never took advantage of her while she was underage, not even before they were married. Priscilla has addressed the misconception that their relationship was solely based on physical intimacy, stating that it was not the case during her teenage years with Elvis. She emphasized that they never had sexual relations during that period.
According to Priscilla, they abstained from consummating their relationship until their wedding night on May 1, 1967, when she was 21 years old. Elvis consistently insisted on waiting until he decided the time was right. This aspect of their relationship highlights the uniqueness of their bond and the respect they shared.
Elvis’s Request for Separation During Priscilla’s Pregnancy
Priscilla quickly became pregnant, which left her feeling uncertain and anxious. She expressed her reservations in her memoir, wondering how this unexpected pregnancy would affect their marriage. Priscilla was hoping for some alone time with Elvis, as this was their time as a couple.
Elvis’s reaction was unexpected. While Priscilla was in her third trimester, he requested time apart. However, within two days, he reversed his decision, highlighting the complexities of their relationship and the challenges they faced.
Elvis’s Infidelity and Priscilla’s Affairs
Early in her relationship with Elvis, Priscilla discovered intimate correspondence between him and actress Anita Wood. As time passed, the press began to report on Elvis’s affairs with co-stars such as Ann-Margret, with whom he starred in “Viva Las Vegas.” Priscilla confronted him about his infidelity, resulting in arguments.
The immense public attention and the constant pursuit of Elvis by admirers took a toll on Priscilla. She admitted to being distraught at one point and even contemplated suicide, as she described in her book, “Elvis and Me.”
However, despite feeling betrayed, Priscilla herself engaged in extramarital affairs, including relationships with a dance teacher and her karate instructor, Mike Stone. Their sexual relationship also dwindled after the birth of their only child, Lisa Marie. This period of their relationship marked a turning point for Priscilla, who was gradually asserting her independence.
Priscilla eventually made the difficult decision to leave Elvis in 1972, five years before his untimely death from cardiac arrest at the age of 42. Despite the challenges and complexities of their relationship, she never stopped loving him. Their life together, as she expressed to PEOPLE, was indeed different, but it was uniquely theirs.
The Portrayal of Elvis and Priscilla in “Priscilla”
Sofia Coppola’s movie “Priscilla” provides a compelling perspective on Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship by focusing on Priscilla’s experiences and emotions. The film presents both the enchanting moments and the darker aspects of their love story. It offers a fresh look at Elvis’s controlling, abusive tendencies, aspects rarely explored in previous portrayals of the legendary musician. This alternative portrayal of Elvis adds depth to the character and enriches our understanding of their relationship.
Sofia Coppola’s movie “Priscilla” is now in theaters.