I’m not so sure how to describe the sort of mood I felt watching The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on the spot – but if there were one that always struck my mind, just happiness in how free it felt. Something I only wish I had felt more of because I’m not an overly confident person with my own orientation. Yet as I was watching Priscilla it only came clear to me why I was finding so much pleasure with what I was seeing from the first scene all the way to the last. Films like Priscilla seem so rare in terms of what they are standing for, given as it’s a film that obviously feels so good about whom it’s representing, and seeing how lovingly it embraces that only makes me happier inside.
Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce play a pair of drag queens and Terence Stamp stars as a trans woman, and all three of them perform dance acts across Australia within a tour bus which the film is named for (with the term “queen” referring to its definition in slang, referring to drag queens or female impersonators). While on their trip the bus breaks down and they find themselves discovering more about how other parts of society perceive them to be, but at the same time embracing the sort of people they are. A premise like this could already find itself bordering towards the perfect level of feel-good territory, and if anyone were to say that Priscilla were otherwise then I wouldn’t be too sure how exactly to respond on the spot or within a short period of time later.
There’s a great sense of pride that can be felt all throughout Priscilla as we watch the trials of our protagonists, for no matter how the world perceived them or how they feel about what others would see inside of their personalities, and it’s not limited to the wonderful performances of all three leading actors. It would be in the nature of these characters and where they grow to find a sense of belonging as they are, flamboyant with their homosexuality and identity. But the fact that this pride is presented inside such a feel-good light is where Priscilla has found itself achieving something greater, because the film’s mix of comedy and drama only encourages its viewers to find a sense of pride within how they see themselves rather than a caricature that the world around them would be seeing.
To talk of the costume design, it’s perhaps some of the most stunning that could ever be put on the screen. This is perhaps one of the rather obvious aspects that would warrant one’s praise but Stephan Elliott has indeed created something that carries such a distinctive visual appeal on all ends and to see all of this beauty letting itself loose all throughout, it’s clear that Elliott’s direction knows perfectly what will provide itself as candy for the sight. Not limited to the stunning costumes but the cinematography also allows all these colours and the gorgeous landscapes to shine so brightly, for the production values only show nothing but their very best qualities from the first scene all the way to the last.
Yet despite the feel-good nature that it carries within its heart, it never feels afraid to enter much darker territories especially when it comes to the sorts of issues LGBT people would face because of the society that they face. It was clear to me from the subplot with Hugo Weaving’s Anthony/Mitzi and their past together with Bernadette’s former self being named publicly, but for a film whose nature embraces pride in identity, it never sugarcoats its own subject matter. If anything, the fact that this was a big hit across the mainstream only makes me happy given how it welcomes people to a new light for LGBT people given the positive depiction of them. Times of anger come about, but together with the happiness, it creates only an excellent blend of comedy and drama.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert made me happy given how lovingly it embraces whom it represents, and how it encourages pride in one’s own identity. Some of the song choices may be tacky but nevertheless it fits so perfectly for the film (the closing sequence with ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” made me smile much wider than I’d have expected), given the sort of energy that its leads put into their roles. But if there’s one thing that can easily be said about every minute of it, it’s absolutely gorgeous. If I were to end the review like the film did on an ABBA song, then it would only be fitting I conclude with this: “Mamma Mia, here I go again. My, my, how can I resist you?” If anything, that would only be a perfect summation of how happy this film made myself feel.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Gramercy Pictures.
Directed by Stephan Elliott
Screenplay by Stephan Elliott
Produced by Al Clark, Michael Hamlyn
Starring Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp, Bill Hunter
Release Year: 1994
Running Time: 103 minutes