A tour bus, painted lavender and topped with a giant silver high-heeled shoe, hurls down the narrow highway of an empty red desert. The inhabitants of the bus are three merry, if slightly inebriated, drag performers singing and wisecracking their way from cosmopolitan Sydney to the heart of the Australian outback for a two-week gig. The bus is named Pricilla, the performers are played by Terrance Stamp, Guy Pierce, and Hugo Weaving. The movie is “The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994), featured June & July (2022) on MGM HD.
“The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert,” is a beloved LGBTQ+ classic, a big-hearted and rollicking road picture that is just as outrageous as it sounds. Made with fast-paced low-budget energy typical of early-nineties indie films, “Pricilla” is less concerned with its simple plot than it is with its complex cast of characters. For his performance as the transexual, Bernadette, Terrance Stamp earned a Golden Globe® nomination and it is easy to see why. Stamp plays Bernadette with world-weary dignity and humor with his trademark minimalist style. When off-stage, Bernadette is a completely self-contained character. Stamp’s stillness conveys her interior life, and his directness turns her quips from cutting to caring. As the oldest member of the cast, Stamp’s turn as Bernadette, was at the time a bold move for the veteran actor.
One of the pleasures of watching “Pricilla” either again or discovering it for the first time are found in the performances of Stamp’s costars, Weaving and Pierce. At the time of the film’s release in 1994, when both men were new to movies and to international audiences, it might have been easy to mistake them for the characters they played. However, with nearly thirty years of roles added to each of their resumes, their performances can be appreciated for the depth each man brought to the film. Hugo Weaving, perhaps best known to American audiences as playing heavies and serious roles, brings a loveable insecurity to his character Tick. By turns outrageous and sensitive, Weaving inhabits his part completely, from his facial expressions to the way he lounges on the bus. Pierce’s Adam/ Felicia, perhaps the provocative of the three characters is an attention-seeking extrovert. Pierce is called upon to go big in his performance throughout the film, in contrast to the relative restraint he would show in his later film roles, and he does so with gusto.
The film is most notable for its generosity of spirit and its unapologetic depiction of its characters. Yes, they run into threats and intimidation on the road, but they make more friends than enemies. The movie doesn’t make them into martyrs or stop for self-pity. Instead, it depicts a world where a trio of drag performers can travel cross-country just being themselves.
Hop on board “The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert,” June & July (2022) on MGM HD.