I didn’t see this miniseries when it originally aired in 2005, but I’ve meant to check it out for years, as I have been a huge fan of Elvis ever since I was a kid. I also became a huge fan of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, thanks to his starring role as King Henry VIII in the The Tudors. So I finally bought this last week, and watched it this weekend.
Written by Patrick Sheane Duncan and directed by James Steven Sadwith, this series begins in 1953, when teenage Elvis went to Sun Records to record a couple of songs as a gift for his mother, and continues up to his big “comeback” special on TV in 1968. So we see how close Elvis was to his mother Gladys (played by Camryn Manheim), who doted on him, and his stern father, Vernon (Robert Patrick), who struggled to provide for his family, despite constantly being on the verge of poverty. It’s that humble upbringing that drives Elvis to want to achieve more with his life by becoming a singer, which his parents initially disapprove of. But when Sam Phillips (Tim Guinee) of Sun Records signs Elvis he quickly becomes a local star. Randy Quaid plays Colonel Tom Parker, who comes into Elvis’ life, takes over as his manager, and proceeds to help turn Elvis into a worldwide megastar.
The film covers all the rest of the major beats of Elvis’ life. His success creates national concern among the media and politicians about the so-called corrupting influence of Rock N Roll music. Elvis gets drafted into the Army, and serves for two years, during which two major life events happen: his beloved mother dies, and he meets 14 year old Pricilla Beaulieu (Antonia Bernath), with whom he began a 7 year relationship that lead to their marriage when she turned 21. After he gets out of the Army, Elvis’ reputation among the public has been changed for the better, and he resumes his music career, which gives way to a movie career, where Elvis films a string of successful musicals, despite his wish for more serious material. We also begin to see the signs of his growing megalomania, as he surrounds himself with hangers-on, the so-called Memphis Mafia, spends money without any regard to the future, and begins abusing prescription drugs, sleeping during the day, and staying up and partying all night. But the real villain of this film is meant to be Tom Parker. He is shown as being far too controlling of Elvis’ career, doing the best to enrich himself, and ignoring Elvis’ concerns. When Elvis performs the 1968 special, he gets excited about performing live again for the first time in over a decade, and attempts to fire Tom Parker, whom he believes is holding him back creatively. But it turns out that Parker has got Elvis so locked in with contracts that there’s virtually no way that Elvis could cut him loose without paying millions of dollars that he doesn’t have, thanks to his runaway spending.
How much of that is true, and not just creative license, is hard to say. I’ve read many differing accounts of Elvis’ relationship with the Colonel over the years. Everyone agrees that the Colonel had a lot of control over Elvis’ career, with a contract that apparently gave him 50% of everything Elvis earned. But did Elvis ever resent it? Can’t say.
Overall, I found this series enjoyable enough that I wish they could have either made it longer, or filmed a sequel, covering the rest of Elvis’ life, as he got heavier into drugs, debt, and then finally death. Jonathan Rhys Meyers does a capable job in the lead role, convincingly portraying Elvis’ innocence and naivety in his younger years, and his growing arrogance as he got more famous. The only parts that don’t really work is whenever he has to sing. They use Elvis’ real vocals, and Rhys Meyers lip-sings, but it’s a little too obvious. Rhys Meyers’ speaking voice just don’t sound much like Elvis’ singing voice. So it’s clearly fake. Also, inexplicably, sometimes the film uses real video footage and pictures of Elvis, inter-spliced with Rhys Myers. Like when Elvis is inducted into the army, they cut to black and white scenes of the real Elvis being inducted. And there’s another scene where Elvis is sitting in Tom Parker’s office, and the walls are covered with pictures and album covers of the real Elvis. It’s a little jarring, and almost takes me out of the film while I’m watching it.
Still, it’s a decent film which I would recommend to any fan of Elvis.
This film can be purchased on dvd via AMAZON.COM
[…] Written by Anthony Lawrence, and directed by John Carpenter, this film stars Kurt Russell as Elvis. The film begins in 1969, with Elvis getting ready to perform live in concert in Las Vegas,for the first time in over 10 years, after spending that time making movies. Elvis is feeling unsure of himself, wondering if he’s ready, and as he watches a news report of him on TV, he pulls out a gun and shoots the screen. That’s a clear indication that things aren’t right. Then it flashes back to Elvis has a young boy, going to the cemetery to visit the grave of his twin brother Jesse, who was stillborn. Elvis talks to his brother, as if his spirit is listening to him. This becomes a bit of a recurring theme, as it is something Elvis does even as an adult, we are lead to believe that he always felt as if something was missing in his life, and it makes him feel better to “talk” to him, when he’s alone. Then the movie continues with Elvis’ life from his beginnings in the music industry to his “comeback” on stage in 1969. It’s pretty much the same territory we’d see in later depictions of Elvis’ live, such as the 2005 Showtime miniseries which I reviewed HERE. […]
Blogged about being a fan of Elvis when I was younger but then I was told about some rumor that said he did not like black folks and I stopped watching his movies. I did realize years later that the no one could substantiate the rumor but still the damage was done.
Ah, yes, the old “The only things niggers can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records” rumor. I’ve heard about that too. I don’t believe it for a minute. Having spent over half my life researching Elvis, from dozens of contradicting accounts, one constant that everyone who knew Elvis agrees is that Elvis Presley was not a racist. He never denied the importance of Blacks in the formation of Rock N Roll, and their influence on him. Contemporaries of his, from James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Wilson, and Ike Turner who knew him have all vouched for him. Elvis was no Pat Boone, just trying to cash in on Black music. He really loved that music, and played it because that’s what he wanted to play. His love for Black music was real.
There’s also the famous story where one day he was buying Cadillacs for some of his friends, and saw this Black woman walking by looking @ the cars, and he went up to her and bought her a Cadillac, just for the heck of it.
Now, there is no denying that a large part of Elvis’ success is due to the fact that there was vast racism in America. Rock N Roll was considered “Black music” and therefor many White-owned radio stations wouldn’t play the records of Black musicians, but when Elvis came along making the same type of music, they would play his. Same with concert halls that wouldn’t book Black musicians, but would book Elvis to perform. So, just by being White, he had more opportunities to succeed than guys like Fats Domino or Chuck Berry would, and that was unfair. But that was America, and the way the system was @ the time. That wasn’t Elvis personally. He was no racist.
I agree: http://chocolatematters.wordpress.com/2007/08/12/elvis-and-that-rumor/
I wrote this back in 2007 in response to the rumors that were still swirling around back then.
[…] was brought up in the comments of my post ELVIS (THE MINISERIES) by Chocolate Matters (who, like me, is also a Black man), who had previously discussed it on his […]
[…] I went on Amazon to look up Elvis: The Miniseries, this dvd popped up on the recommendation screen. I’d never heard of it before, but it looked […]