Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The (Australia, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

"What this film does for the drag scene is what Sean Connery did for the secret service. It glamorizes it."
- Michael Hamlyn, producer of Priscilla

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is about the most fun you can have with three guys who like to dress up as women. There are movies of Mrs. Doubtfire's ilk, which treat crossdressing as a joke, then there's Just Like a Woman, which has its maudlin moments. Somewhere in between is Priscilla, which takes the matter seriously, but delivers a lot of laughs while doing so.

The latest export from down under, Priscilla is the story of three drag queens -- Bernadette/Ralph (Terrence Stamp), Mitzi/Tick (Hugo Weaving from Jocelyn Moorehouse's Proof), and Felicia/Adam (soap star Guy Pearce) -- on their way across the Australian desert to play a gig. Along the way, their bus, Priscilla, breaks down, and they have to rely on help from strangers. And, while crossdressing performers are accepted in the big city, their welcome in a less urban setting is not always warm and friendly.

The dance numbers are lavish and fun to watch, whether they're performed in the middle of the desert, atop a bar in some out-of-the-way town, or on a stage in Sydney. Mostly seventies disco hits (including once-popular tunes by Gloria Gaynor, the Village People, and Abba), these songs are lip-synched and gyrated to with gusto by the transvestite trio as they don garish costumes and even worse makeup to wow their audiences.

There are moments of seriousness amidst all the zaniness as the twin specters of intolerance and homophobia (two sides of the same coin) cast a pall over the proceedings. Give director Stephan Elliot credit for not dwelling overmuch on these instances. He knows that their mere inclusion is sufficient to get the message across.

The often-ribald comedy varies from amusing to hilarious. Most of the best lines are too "colorful" to repeat here. Priscilla is not a film for those who are made uneasy by Benny Hill. The end credits (during and after) contain some of the movie's most inventive humor. Early departers deprive themselves.

While each of the three leads is good, the standout performance belongs to normally-serious veteran actor Terrence Stamp, who has previously appeared in such diverse outings as Billy Budd and Superman (I and II). Here, he brings a quiet dignity to the role of Bernadette. That's not easy to do considering some of the outrageous costumes he's required to wear.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a great deal more appealing than many might suppose it to be. It's a road movie that's anything but typical or traditional. So, whether or not you share the proclivities of Bernadette, Mitzi, and Felicia, the trio's cinematic cabaret is nevertheless something to smile and laugh your way through.

Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The (Australia, 1993)

Director: Stephan Elliot
Cast: Terrence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick
Screenplay: Stephan Elliot
Cinematography: Brian J. Breheny
Music: Guy Gross
U.S. Distributor: Gramercy Pictures
Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: