As a kid, there were only two CDs in my family car, one of which was the soundtrack to The Adventure of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Fast forward to Summer 2015 – I was sitting with my brother, browsing pages upon pages of movies on Netflix trying to decide what to watch, and that’s when it appeared. As a kid, the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman crossing the Australian outback in a pink bus sounded like the most confusing thing I had ever heard of. But now, as a more mature film and RuPaul’s Drag Race connoisseur, this film sounded just up my alley. I convinced my brother to watch it, and we sat down to watch one of the best cinematic masterpieces we had ever seen.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert tells the story of Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose/Mitzi Del Bra (Hugo Weaving), a Sydney based drag queen who accepts a gig in Alice Springs, a town in the literal centre of Australia. Tick is accompanied on his journey through the outback by Adam Whitely/Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce), a younger and obnoxious drag queen, and Bernadette Bassinger (Terence Stamp), an older transgender woman and ex-drag performer. The trio sets off in a bus and, in a series of comedic misadventures, make their way to their gig in Alice Springs.
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The screenplay is witty and incredibly intelligent, using humour to navigate the very turbulent LGBT themes at the film’s heart. For being a film produced in the early 1990s, the film is incredibly progressive, its treatment of LGBT dialogue greatly mirroring today’s. The trio’s physical journey mirrors their emotional one, as they grow to understand and accept themselves and each other. It’s treatment of these themes earned The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film and still graces lists of the best LGBT themed films.
Besides being hilarious and truly heart-warming, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is also incredibly well made. Brian J. Breheny’s cinematography is masterful, the terracotta desert juxtaposing the bright pinks and greens of the drag queens’ costumes, huge waves of silver fabric dotting the Australian outback. The stunning costumes earned costume designers Tim Chappell and Lizzy Gardiner an Academy, BAFTA and AACTA award. The film was both a huge commercial and critical success, garnering recognition for its screenplay, production and costume design, and performances.
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The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is one of the films responsible for bringing Australian cinema to the worldwide audience as well as cementing Australian cinema’s eccentric reputation within the film world. It has entered not only the LGBT canon but also the Australian canon, the famous stiletto making an appearance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony and traits from the film referenced in Iggy Azalea’s video for her hit single Work. It’s presence in contemporary niche pop culture, particularly in the LGBT and drag community, only further cements its cult status. So grab a bottle of vino (preferably from Oz), a gaggle of friends and enjoy one of the best films Australia has offered us.
You can find The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on the UK Netflix.
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