Australia / 1994
Director and Writer: Stephan Elliott
Cast: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick, Mark Holmes, Julia Cortez, Ken Radley, Alan Dargin, Rebel Russell, June Marie Bennett
Camp, flashy and determinedly gay in its sensibilities, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was at the forefront of a series of films dealing with the lives of men in frocks.
The story may be sparse but it’s a whole heap of fun. Drag artist Anthony (Hugo Weaving) has been offered a job in the town of Alice Springs at the centre of Australia. He’s unsure of whether to go or how to get there. Adam (Guy Pearce) is a muscular drag queen from a wealthy family who wants him to do something with his life. Bernadette (Terence Stamp) is a recently altered transsexual who is grieving over the death of her partner. Adam decides that the trip to Alice Springs is just what he needs and buys a broken-down bus to transport them. Together, Adam and Anthony persuade Bernadette that she needs the change and challenge in life. Christening their lightly lavender bus ‘Priscilla’, the three of them set off on an odyssey across Australia.
What follows is a road movie through the Outback as three urbane Sydneyites make the journey to Alice Springs, bringing with them their own brand of humour, opposition to discrimination and overpowering love of any music by ABBA. En route, the bus breaks down, enabling the trio to face up to the seriously redneck Ockers who have never been faced with such a determinedly out group of drag queens. They meet up with a tribe of entranced Aborigines who joyfully join in with one of the group’s glittering pop routines, and introduce the gentle Bob (Bill Hunter) to Bernadette.
The dramatic nub of the film arrives when the battle bus comes into Alice Springs and Bernadette and Adam discover that they have been offered the job by Anthony’s ex-wife, who wants him to take more control in the upbringing of their son (Mark Holmes). While Adam and Bernadette are trying to come to terms with the deep, dark secrets of Anthony’s past, Anthony is trying to sort out his relationship with his ex-wife (Sarah Chadwick) and his son.
The story gives director Stephan Elliott the opportunity to dress up both his cast and the countryside with previously unseen cinematic images that remain in the mind long after the story is forgotten. For Time Out: “Most impressive is the Fellini-esque panache writer/director Elliott brings to the visuals, isolating the extravagantly dressed figures in astonishing, orange-tinted landscapes and staging the production numbers like a frustrated director of musicals. Hard not to be swept along.”