The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, is a force to be reckoned with. This 1994 film, directed by Stephen Elliott, tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman who traverse the Australian outback in a school bus converted into a cushioned caravan, complete with a tanning bed.
Their mission is to reach Alice Springs, a central Australian town, for a month of song and dance.
They embark from their hometown of Sydney, which boasts one of the largest gay pride parades in the world, second only to San Francisco’s. According to the film, the rest of Australia is not as open to alternative lifestyles.
The plot’s protagonist, Anthony “Tick” Belrose (Hugo Weaving), or Mitzi Del Bra is not the only character with a dual identity. Adam Whitely (Guy Pearce) goes by Felicia Jollygoodfellow with her heels on, and Bernadette Bassenger (Terence Stamp) will quickly give you a reason never to call her Ralph.
While Mitzi and Felicia only moonlight as women, Bernadette holds the job all hours of the day, every day. She takes hormones, maintains her hair, and is constantly having to put men in check.
In her words, “being a man one day and a woman the next is not an easy thing to do.” However, this line refers more to the emotional and social implications of both these roles. The film portrays Bernadette as the film’s wisest and most resilient of these characters, especially considering she loses her partner at the very beginning of the movie.
All three characters are professional dancers who lip sync to classic jazz vocals and early ’90’s radio hits, such as “A Fine Romance,” “Mamma Mia” and “I Will Survive.”
Certain moments of the film convey an understanding between people who struggle with acceptance in society in different ways.
When Priscilla, their bus, breaks down in the desert, a car stops to help the trio with their broken bus, but soon leaves upon realizing that drag queens reside inside.
They finally find help through a group of indigenous Australians, another group oppressed in Australian society. This moment serves to show that ostracizing still occurs when reason doesn’t.
But that’s what putting on high heels and moving down the road is all about.
Visually, this film sparkles. The cinematography cleverly uses reflections through mirrors and windows to its advantage.
The change of focus in several scenes involving mirrors also helps to visually explain the concept of being something other than one’s image.
This technique visually demonstrates the concept of a person’s dual personality.
The costume and set design, especially for the montage in the final act, are enough to make the film a visual treat.
In fact, Lizzy Gardener and Tim Chappel won an Academy Award in 1994 for their work on Priscilla’s costumes.
RATING: Four out of five stars. The costumes were fabulous, the characters and plot are fun and hilarious, yet give justice to the social message.
The only issue was that Bernadette seems to get over her dead husband fairly quickly, so much that it isn’t mentioned at all after the first act.