The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

A Critical Review
By: Jason M. Ebel

Official Run Time:104 Min
Rating AU:M15+
Rating US:R
Filming Dates:13 Sept-28 Oct, 1993
On Site Filming Locations:Sydney, Broken Hill (New South Wales), Watarrka National Park, Kings Canyon, Alice Springs (Northern Territory), The Castle (South Australia)

Cast & Crew
Executive Producer
Rebel Penfold-Russell
ProducersAl Clark, Michael Hamlyn
Associate Producer/Unit Production Mgr. / Post-Production SupervisorSue Seeary
DirectorStephan Elliott
ScreenplayStephan Elliott
Bill HunterBob
Guy PearceAdam Whitely / Felicia Jollygoodfellow
Terence StampBernadette Bassenger
Hugo WeavingAnthony 'Tick' Belrose / Mitzi Del Bra
June Marie BennettShirley
Sarah ChadwickMarion
Al ClarkPriest
Julia CortezCynthia
Alan DarginAboriginal Man
Mark HolmesBenji
Rebel Penfold-RussellLogowoman
Margaret PomeranzAdam's Mum
Ken RadleyFrank
John CaseyBartender
Murray DaviesMiner
Frank CorneliusPiano Player
Bob BoycePetrol Station Attendant
Leighton PickenYoung Adam
Maria KmetMa
Joseph KmetPa
Daniel KellieYoung Ralph
Hannah CorbettRalph’s Sister
Trevor BarrieRalph’s Father
Tim Chappel
Drag Queen in Barber’s Chair
Stephan ElliotDoorman
Lizzy Gardiner
Naughty Hotel Maid
CinematographerBrian J. Breheny
EditorSue Blainey
ComposerGuy Gross
Production DesignerOwen Paterson
Costume DesignersTim Chappel, Lizzy Gardiner
Art DirectorColin Gibson
MakeupCassie Hanlon
SoundPhil Judd, Guntis Sics, Stephen Erskine, Angus RobertsonAsst. DirectorStuart Freeman, Emma Schofield
Location ManagerRick Kornaat
Stunt CoordinatorRobert Simper
ChoreographerMark White
AccountantJohn MayMusic Score (Original and Adapted)Guy Gross Production CompanyLatent Image Production FinancePolygram Filmed Entertainment, FFC (Film Finance Corporation), NSW Film & Television Office, Apocalypse

Release Dates
United States of America10 August 1994Australia8 September 1994United Kingdom14 October 1994Denmark & Finland18 November 1994France4 January 1995
Box Office Figures
Australia Opening $1,253,624 AUD, Gross $16,459,245 AUD United States of America$11,059, 700 (USA)United Kingdom$823,293 (UK)

Cannes Film Festival Audience Favourite
AFI Nominations 1994 Best film Best Achievement in Direction Best Original Screenplay Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Best Achievement in Cinematography Best Original Music Score Best Achievement in Production Design Best Achievement in Costume Design
Academy Awards, USA 1995Won Best Costume DesignTim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner
Golden Globes, USA 1995 Nominated Best Motion Picture - Comedy/MusicalNominated Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/MusicalTerence Stamp
Seattle International Film Festival 1994 Won Best ActorTerence StampWon Best Film
British Academy Awards 1994 Won Best Costume DesignLizzy Gardiner and Tim ChappelWon Best Make UpCassie Hanlon and Angela Conte

The Sound Track
"I've Never Been To Me"
Written by 'Ken Hirsch' and 'Ronald Miller (III)'
Performed byCharlene "Go West"
Written byJacques Morali,Henri BeloloandVictor Willis
Performed by theVillage People
"Billy Don't Be A Hero"
Written byMitch MurrayandPeter Callander
Performed by Paper Lace
"My Baby Loves Lovin'"
Written byRoger CookandRoger Greenaway
Performed byWhite Plains
"I Love The Night Life (Disco 'Round)"
Written bySusan HutchesonandAlicia Bridges
Performed byAlicia Bridges
"Can't Help Lovin' That Man"
Written byJerome KernandOscar Hammerstein II
Performed by Trudy Richards
"I Will Survive"
Written byDino FekarisandFreddie Perren
Performed byGloria Gaynor
"A Fine Romance"
Written byJerome KernandDorothy Fields Performed byLena Horne
"Shake Your Groove Thing"
Written byDino FekarisandFreddie Perren
Performed byPeaches&Herb Fame(as Herb)
"I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine"
Written byMack David
Performed byPatti Page

"Finally (7" Choice Mix)"
Written by Rodney K. Jackson,Ce Ce Peniston, Felipe Delgado and E.L. Linnear Performed byCe Ce Peniston
"Take A Letter Maria"
Written byR.B. Greaves
Performed byR.B. Greaves
"Mamma Mia"
Written byBenny Andersson,Björn Ulvaeus, andStig Anderson
Performed byAbba
"Save The Best For Last"
Written by Wendy Wladman,Jon LindandPhil Galdston
Performed byVanessa Williams
"E strano!.. Ah fors e lui"
(from opera "La Traviata")
Written byGiuseppe Verdi
Performed byJoan Cardenand the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Courtesy ABC Classics
Written byBenny Andersson,Björn Ulvaeus, andStig Anderson
Performed byAbba
Published by Union Songs AB
Courtesy Sweden Music AB
"A Desert Holiday"
Performed byGuy Pearce
"I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine"
Written byMack David
Performed byGuy Pearce
"This Old Man"
Performed byGuy PearceandHugo Weaving
"Ten Fat Trannies"
Performed byGuy PearceandHugo Weaving
"My Darling, Clementine"
Performed byHugo Weaving

Video Clips
Official web page
Mamma Mia
I will survive
Blooper reel
Drew Carry: an extra special clip from the Drew Carry Show “Priscilla vs. Rocky Horror”

Random Funny Bits
Bernadette’s life like bust was created by filling up condoms with lotion. At one point during a strong hug they popped and had to be replaced.
Elliot planned on using real drag queens, after reading the add mentioning outback travel (flies!) only one showed up to audition.
The line in the closing credits "Shown in Dragarama at select theatres" is a reference to some theatres using a mirror-ball and colored lighting during the "Finally" dance number.
The famous thong dress, which won the movie an Academy Award cost only $7.
Tim Curry turned down the role of Mitzy.

Reviews, Interviews, & Nonesuch

Unofficial Fan Website:

International Movie Database<>
PopcornQ Movies -
Online Reviews of "Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"
The Chicago Sun-Times, review by Roger Ebert.
Movie Reviews UK, review by Damian Cannon.
The Washington Post, review by Desson Howe.
The Washington Post, review by Rita Kempley.
Australian Film 1978-1994: A Survey of Theatrical Features. Compiled and edited by Scott Murray. Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia, 1995.
The Bent Lens: A World Guide to Gay and Lesbian Film. Edited by Claire Jackson and Peter Tapp. St. Kilda, Victoria: Australian Catalogue Company Ltd., 1997.
Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video. Edited by Raymond Murray. Philadelphia: TLA Publications, 1994.
Clark, Al. Making Priscilla. Penguin Books: Australia. 1994
O’Regan, Tom. Australian National Cinema. Routledge: London. 1996
Journal Articles:
Screen International.n918 .30 July 1993 p.8
Screen International.n929 .15 October 1993 p.25
Cinema papers.n91 .January 1993 p.3
Cinema papers.n95 .October 1993 p. 63
Cinema Papers.n96 .December 1993 p.65
Film Francaisn.2505/6 .6 May 1994 p.64
Screen International.n959 .27 May 1994 p.14
Variety.9 May 1994 p. 76
Metro.n100 .Summer 1994/5 p. 23-26
Interview.v24. n8. August 1994 p.36-37
Premiere.v8 .n2 October 1994 p. 100-107
Empire.n65 .November 1994 p. 53-54
Empire.n65 .November 1994 p.30
Film in Review.v45 .n11/12 .Nov/Dec 1994 p. 61-62
Cinema Papers. .n101, October 1994, pp. 4-10, 86.
Cinema Papers. .n101, October 1994, pp. 11.
Cinema Papers. .n101, October 1994, pp. 62-63.
Sight and Sound.v4 .n11 . November 1994 p.38
Premiere.v2 .n12 .January 1995 p. 27
Sight and Sound.v .n5 .May 1995 p.59.
Empire.n71 .May 1995 p. 124
Rushes. Summer 1995 p.8-11
Cine-Bulles.v14 .n2 .Summer 1995 p. 18-21
Media International Australia. .n78: Queer Media, November 1995, pp. 33-38.
Metro Magazine. Volume 101, 1995, pp. 12-16.
Media International Australia.n78. November 1995 p.33-38.
Continuum.v10 .n2 1996 p.97-110
Film Quarterly. 50. n2. Winter 1996/97 p.41-45

Online, Priscilla has a huge amount of coverage from every aspect of the human populace. From Official sites, to chats, to forums, fan sites, and beyond; in almost any language you can imagine. Need proof? link made me smile to think that this film had reached so far. A Google search for “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Gave me 416,000 results. For Australian sites alone it had 13,200. I should think that Priscilla is alive and well.

The Serious Bit
(Warning, do not read this if you have not seen the film)
The Stephan Elliot film “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” is the journey of three friends, making their way though the Australian outback and looking fabulous while doing so! This is the epic voyage of three men, er…I mean women, um…ok, two men and one transsexual as they take their drag show cross country. Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terrence Stamp star in this cult comedy bit of prime Australian Cinema.
The film begins with, what else, but a drag act done by none other than Mitzi/Tick (Weaving). This is soon followed by a funeral, where we see the aging transsexual, Bernadette (Stamp), Mourn the loss of her lover. Tick then acquires his friends Bernadette and the young and flamboyant Adam/Felicia (Pearce) to aid in a drag show that will take place in Alice Springs, across the desert. After some clever parental manipulation, and business with tourists, Lars, Lars, & Lars they have their very own bus, which is quickly christened “Priscilla! Queen of the desert!” Soon the whole troupe is on their way. Along the way we find out that the show is to be performed in a casino owned by none other than Tick’s wife. Needless to say the others are slightly surprised.
Also along the way, there are the classic episodes of road banter & bicker, as well as the occasional bus roof opera, and as in all road movies, there are slight vehicular dilemmas, namely being they break down in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully they are rescued and befriended by a group of aborigines that just happen to be hanging out in the nearby vicinity. Our heroes express their gratitude by performing a moving rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” in which they even manage to “drag” up their new friend Alan.
Here we meet the gentlemanly mechanic, Bob. After a brief fiasco in the local bar involving the upstaging of the girls by Bob’s wife and several ping pong balls, they once again hit the road with Bob now on board. With new empathetic friend bob in tow, they face the dangers of small minds in large numbers while passing though the backwoods sticks towns of the outback. Fortunately, all our darlings survive, relatively undamaged, to continue on to Alice Springs.
In a final jolt to Mitzi’s partners in crime they are to discover that Mitzi is a daddy! We soon realize that Tick has a full suitcase of worries about fatherhood that he has more or less been keeping “in the closet”. In the end all is well; Bernadette and Bob are romantically involved, and happy to stay in Alice Springs, watching over the hotel. Tick and Adam head home with son Benji, who not only accepts his father’s lifestyle, but is actually proud of him as well. If we are to make any assumptions based on the last scene in the film, it would seem that they would live “Happily ever after.”
Ps. Watch the credits, yes, all of them, right till the very end, this is the one bit I can’t spoil for you.
Since its release in 1994, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” has been hailed as a true work of brilliance. Ironically although the film is Australian, it was first released in the United States and shown at the Cannes film festival before it was shown on its home turf. Despite the stereotypical Aussie homophobia, it was immediately embraced as an “Australian Film”. It was and is seen as a triumph in film making a musical, a comedy, a drama, a social commentary; it is all this and more. Filled with a star studded cast, majestic shots of the Australian outback, award winning costumes, and some of the best/worst one liners known to man, it is, in a word, fabulous. Since its original release, DVD has seen it through various collectors’ editions featuring various bloopers, commentaries, and featurettes that naturally must accompany any classic film. It has since been embraced by many different circles as their cult classic of choice. The Gay community has embraced it as their own, as well as the Drag circuit. Australians see it as Australian, and many other groups will find a way for it to fit into their niche, whereas I simply find it immensely funny and entertaining. I do however respect and admire Elliot’s ability to have woven in heavy social issues without taking away from the enjoyment of the film. One of my favourite bits however was when the aboriginal group is grooving with the act, and they even add a little didgeridoo to the mix. While some reviewers saw this as racist, I saw it as exactly the opposite. While it may have been slightly corny, to me, it was an obvious statement about the alienation of these two groups of people by society. Also some reviewers have claimed that Bob’s wife is a mail order bride stereo type. The problem with this is that, as far as I can tell, although the term “Mail Order” was used by the queens, it was later revealed that she had in fact married a very drunken Bob in order to acquire a green card. Firstly this means she is not a mail order bride. Second I do not think her behaviour was meant to be stereotypical in any way, her slightly crazy behaviour is simply one more eccentricity of the film to make us laugh.
Elliot in Various interviews, in fact has denied trying to make “Priscilla” anything other than an enjoyable musical. Yet in the film, as funny as it is, many deep issues are addressed including but not limited to bigotry, child abuse, death, love, parenthood, and of course AIDS. The beautiful thing about this film is that while these issues are shown and acknowledged, they never overwhelm the idea of being able to have a good time. Whereas many films that touch upon such issues are seen only as activist, this film retains its right to be exactly what it is, nothing more, and absolutely nothing less.
The production of this film is quite spectacular when you look at the efforts put forth to create it. The entire movie was created on $5million AUS. The entire cast & crew made the long journey across the outback to film it on site, 3,000 Kilometres in 7 weeks. The locations in the film were selected because of the rugged landscape, which, while it provided beautiful scenery, the arid desert heat was not the easiest on the equipment, costumes, make up, people, etc. On top of this there was also an enormous amount of unpredicted rainfall, making conditions less than ideal for filming it was as producer Al Clark says a “mission.” Costumes that had been created early on fell apart due to heat and had to be fixed or completely reinvented immediately, requiring expert improvisational skills. Creative filming was also implemented. The film was shot on Kodak 93, 96 and 48 using a combination of 25mm lens and crystal express lenses. "My brief was to go for weird, go weird, really push it" says director of photography Brian Breheny. I don’t know anything about filming or lenses, but that sounds weird.
While all involved in this film had previous experience, in fact some were quite well known (i.e. Terence Stamp, Bill Hunter); this movie was a huge stepping stone and launching point for the careers of many of the cast and crew including director Stephan Elliot, and lead man Hugo Weaving. The interesting part of the casting is the reversal in usual roles. Among the best examples is that of Terrence Stamp, a highly respected tough guy actor, playing a transsexual. Remarkably all the actors create impeccably believable characters. Ironically while working on his next film Elliot checked himself into a mental clinic; apparently suffering from the pressure to create another film as great as “Priscilla”. Since its debut “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” has been seen as a great movie, and is in fact a credit and a beacon to Australian cinema then and now.
In the end it can be said that this is a film of many genres. While Julie Andrews would probably crack the shits to hear that this was a musical, it could be said that, yes, it is a musical (in its way). Although this is odd, seeing as most of the songs are lip synched (as would suit most drag queens). As in all comedies, it is hard to say what makes it a comedy, but I laughed a lot, so it is a comedy. While others have profiled it as a Drama, a Gay film, etc. I prefer to keep with Elliot’s vision, that it is in fact a musical. Since it is so ridiculously funny though I will end by saying that this is a great “Musical Comedy” of the highest calibre; which Australia should be very proud of.