NEW YEAR FILM REVIEWS: Priscilla (including our man’s interview with the real woman) and One Life

Opening on New Year’s Day are biopics Priscilla (Cineworld only) and One Life. GRAHAM YOUNG reviews them both here – and recalls interviewing Priscilla Presley in real life back in 2016.

Priscilla (15, 113 mins). Haunted by the death of his mother and not satisfied by the kind of starry relationships everyone expects him to have, Elvis is smitten in Germany by a 14-year-old US schoolgirl Priscilla Beaulieu – his future (and only) wife, now an executive producer here.

The verdict *** Sofia Copland (Lost in Translation) has crafted a superb-looking film blessed with quality performances from young actors Cailee Spaeny (Jane Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex) and Australian-born Jacob Elordi (Felix in the recent Saltburn).

The first half crackles with unease at Elvis and Priscilla’s apparent differences in age (13 years, never made clear). But in the end the film’s wide time frame and avoidance of The King’s music gently sucks the life out of it – rather like Elvis giving drugs to Priscilla to make her sleep.

Background. I actually interviewed Priscilla herself back in 2016 and asked her if she recalled the day she first met Elvis in September 1959 – a scene in West Germany which now opens the film.

“Oh yes,” she told me. “I was so nervous at 14 and not used to talking to adults except with shorter answers. I just thought he was even better looking than he appeared to be in his photos, if that’s possible.”

Although Priscilla found Elvis the American Trilogy song, she said she never interfered with his work. “He was the artist, working on his own canvas, and (as a wife) you can’t tamper with that,” she told me.

Though seen to be keeping Priscilla pure for himself, the film doesn’t concentrate on his reported affairs or detail many dates. But, after Elvis proposed in 1966, they were married from 1967 to 1973. Priscilla was in LA in August 1977 when his death in Memphis was announced.

“It was a complete shock,” she told me. “Elvis was so strong when he was younger, his death took us all by surprise.”

One Life (PG, 110 mins). Directed by James Lawes (Black Mirror / Slow Horses, BBC Film production shows how stockbroker and humanitarian Nicholas Winton (Johnny Flynn) helps to save hundreds of Central European children on the eve of World War II.

Years later, Winton (Anthony Hopkins) is invited on to Esther Rantzen’s famous That’s Life! TV show to talk about his efforts, with a surprise in store that must have been one the most extraordinary moments that anyone has ever lived.

Verdict **** Though not on the same scale as Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) or Polanski’s The Pianist (2022), this film will greatly appeal to older audiences who enjoyed Michael Caine playing a Royal Navy D-Day veteran in The Great Escaper earlier this year and / or who remember watching the future Sir Nicholas Winton’s real life 1988 appearance on That’s Life!

Hopkins, who turns 86 on New Year’s Eve before the arrival of 2024, is so utterly masterful when simply pottering around Winton’s Maidenhead home, this very moving film almost doesn’t need Johnny Flynn recreating the pre-war heroics of Winton who was knighted in 2003 and died aged 106 in 2015.

ENDS

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