Movie Review – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

1 07 2008

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a 1994 Australian film about three drag queens (two gay men and a transsexual woman) driving across the outback from Sydney to Alice Springs in a large bus they have named Priscilla. The film stars Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp. It was written and directed by Stephan Elliott. Since its release it has retained its popularity and opened as a major musical in Star City Casino Sydney, October 2006.

Anthony “Tick” Belrose, a.k.a. Mitzi Del Bra, a drag queen, accepts an offer to perform at a casino in Alice Springs, a remote town in central Australia. After persuading his friends and fellow performers, Bernadette Bassenger – a recently bereaved transsexual woman, and Adam Whitely, a.k.a. Felicia Jollygoodfellow – an irritatingly flamboyant and obnoxious drag queen – to join him, the three set out for Alice Springs in a large tour bus which Adam/Felicia christens “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”.

They encounter on the way the less accepting attitudes of rural Australia, sexual violence, and the problems of vehicle breakdowns. The troupe eventually arrives at their destination with costumes and dance routines prepared. Before they arrive, Tick reveals that he is married (it is revealed that his wife is gay or possibly bisexual), and that the trip is a favor for his wife, who runs the casino where they will be performing. Upon arriving, they learn that Tick and his wife also have a young son.

Cultural impact

The film is regarded in the gay community as a camp classic, portraying Australia’s outback in an idyllic way, showcasing its beauty and remoteness. The story also brought together the travelling troupe with an Aboriginal tribe, a powerful image of two often socially outcast peoples singing and dancing together under unlikely circumstances. The film was ranked as number 11 on Logo’s 50 Greatest Films.

The film also employed unusual casting with Terence Stamp, who has otherwise portrayed masculine characters, often villains. This film was the first large-scale venue for Pearce and Weaving, both of whom have gone on to larger film success.

In 1995, an American film, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, was released, and featured a similar plot line and is commonly mistaken as an “American version of Priscilla.” However, To Wong Foo began production during the middle of Priscilla’s filming.

During the 2000 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Priscilla was part of a parade of images of Australian popular culture. A refurbished and decorated 1980 Ford Denning (the same make of bus used in the movie) featuring a giant steel Stiletto heel which extended from and retracted into the roof — inspired by some of the scenes from the film — was paraded around the Olympic Stadium. The bus was also accompanied by several stiletto heels tricycle floats and drag queens donning big wigs as a tribute to the film’s international success and the local gay community.

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