How Accurate It Is & What The Movie Changes

Warning: Contains potential SPOILERS for Elvis

Baz Luhrmann’s latest extravaganza, Elvisoffers a typically ostentatious look at the life of The King, but it isn’t immediately obvious if Elvis is a true story or how accurate the biopic actually is. Starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks alongside a range of performers portraying real-life superstars, the movie certainly has its roots in reality. However, as with Luhrmann project, accuracy inevitably gives way to showmanship. Considering the subject matter, this is probably the right approach.

Told as a series of flashbacks from the perspective of Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), Elvis chronicles The King’s career from earlier obscurity to international icon. While under Parker’s management, Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) begins a meteoric rise in the music industry, capturing the public’s imagination and provoking adoration and outrage in equal measure. In some cases, Elvis’ stage presence even causes clashes with the establishment. However, for all of his success, his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker becomes incredibly strained. Not only does the movie imply that Parker took advantage of Elvis, but it even goes as far as to portray him as an outright villain, with the end credits detailing his dismissal of him into gambling addiction.


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While Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker’s relationship was certainly fraught, and even fractious, Elvis arguably doesn’t provide a fully-rounded representation of their time together. Some scenes either entirely invent or twist events to suit the narrative of Parker as an out-and-out antagonist. Yet this is not the only area where Elvis takes liberties with the truth. Both around Elvis’ own entertainment journey and his personality dele as a man, Elvis is guilty of occasionally over-simplifying for the sake of Luhrmann’s almost idolatrous story. Here are some of the key ways in which Elvis deviates from the true story of Elvis Presley.

Elvis’ Colonel Tom Parker Changes

Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis

Many of the movie’s most egregious changes center around the character of Colonel Tom Parker. According to his depiction of him in the film, Parker was an almost entirely venal, self-interested figure who in many cases actively made suggestions that could have had disastrous consequences, were it not for Elvis’ instinctive intervention. For example, relatively early in the movie, Parker attempts to persuade Elvis to tone down aspects of his performance in order to satisfy more conservative quarters. Likewise, he’s seen trying to turn Elvis’ ’68 comeback special into a Christmas-themed jamboree, complete with Christmas jumpers. In fact, many of these misrepresentations – much like Hanks’ highly affected accent – ​​couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The key source of authority on Elvis‘ Colonel Tom Parker changes is author and music journalist Alanna Nash, who wrote a widely-acclaimed Parker and Elvis biography in 2010. In an interview with VarietyNash has debunked several of Elvis‘ claims about the manager. For example, regarding Parker’s alleged desire to tone down some of the singer’s more risqué performance antics, Nash states that the manager “liked it that Elvis did what brought folks into the big tent.“She went on to add,”Parker loved it that Elvis was like a male striptease artist… like the ballet girls on the carnivals. That sold tickets!“Similarly, Nash the movie’s assertion that Parker was dismissed by the government in a bid to stop Elvis’ controversial performances as “total and unequivocal bunk,” further highlighting the discrepancies between the movie and historical fact.

How Elvis Changes Elvis Presley


While representing Colonel Tom Parker into an unambiguous villain is probably Elvis‘ most obvious change, the movie also takes liberties with Elvis Presley himself. In particular, the film plays fast and loose with some of the real Elvis Presley’s most important musical influences, as well as the relationships that shaped him. For instance, as Alanna Nash explains in the Variety interview, it is not true that Elvis’ most important musical influences were exclusively Black as the movie implies. As Nash puts it,”Elvis had just as many white influences and announced as early as seventh grade that he was going to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. Remember, he entered a talent contest as a child singing ‘Old Shep’ — warbling about dead dogs is about as country as it gets.” This highlights how, when it comes to the genesis of Presley’s undeniable talent, Elvis occasionally oversimplifies.

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There are also numerous changes made to Elvis Presley as a man. One area that Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis glosses over is his complicated relationship history. Although his wife Priscilla plays a prominent role, later partners such as Ginger Alden and Linda Thompson are completely ignored, representing a grossly simplistic version of The King’s love-life. It’s also arguable that the film glosses over the inappropriateness of Presley’s overtures when the then Priscilla Beaulieu was just 14 years old, with Nash describing the onscreen representation as “sanitized“. Equally, Elvis’ bond with his manager suffers from a similarly revisionist approach. In one scene, for example, Presley takes the radical step of firing Parker while on stage – an event which, according to Nash, never happened. As a result , while Elvis does provide some insight into the man, there’s no doubt that it is far from documentary in its approach.

Elvis True Story: Historical Changes

Collage of Elvis with Priscilla, Big Mama Thornton, and Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis

Beyond changing some of the personalities involved in the story, Elvis‘ history is occasionally found wanting. This is perhaps unsurprising, considering that the Elvis soundtrack boasts songs from contemporary artists such as Doja Cat and Eminem, highlighting that strict chronology is not high on Luhrmann’s list of priorities. Nevertheless, it’s important to highlight some historical changes that directly impact the movie’s story. For example, while Elvis’ friendship with the likes of BB King is a cornerstone of Elvis, it’s actually doubtful whether they even knew each other. In a separate interview, [via USA Today] Nash explains that, “Elvis and BB were acquaintances, but not close friends. They probably first crossed paths at Sun Studio, but only briefly.”

Similarly, some of the circumstances around key events in Elvis’ story are altered for narrative effect. For instance, it’s unclear whether the connection between Parker’s gambling debts (which were undoubtedly extensive) and Elvis’ Vegas residency was as clear-cut as the movie implies. Equally, Elvis’ Army career, which Elvis suggested was a way for the singer to avoid going to jail for indecency, was actually more of a PR coup orchestrated by Parker. These are just some examples of how the movie plays fast and loose with Elvis Presley’s true story in order to construct a more compelling narrative around the character.

How Accurate is Elvis?

Collage of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley, and Big Mama Thornton in Elvis

In many ways, judging Elvis by its commitment to historical authenticity is a mistake. The film is more interested in recapturing the energy and vitality of its star’s performances than regurgitating facts from his life. However, even though the truth is sometimes twisted, the movie is not completely removed from reality. For instance, although the circumstances around Elvis’ army stint (which shortened Presley’s musical and acting careers) were changed, it’s clear that Parker was pulling the strings away from the front line. Likewise, Parker was an inveterate gambler who probably did cheat his client of millions of dollars, leading to the acrimony that defined their later relationship. Additionally, Parker really was determined to stop Elvis from touring abroad, in part because he didn’t have a US passport due to his immigration status, and he did install Elvis’ dad Vernon as a puppet business manager so that he could control everything behind the scenes. This proves that, while Elvis is definitely not a picture-perfect retelling of Presley’s life, Luhrmann’s biopic contains enough truth to make it compelling as both art and a version of history.

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