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