The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert review – riotous return trip

In this smart, lovable gem, now rereleased, a trans woman and two drag queens kick up the dust in Australia’s outback

Terence Stamp had his finest hour with this movie, which incidentally allowed me to “get” Terence Stamp, while at the same wondering – as he deadpanned his role alongside Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce squeezing every last outrageous drop from theirs – whether Stamp completely “got” what was happening himself.

In 1994, writer-director Stephan Elliott created a pioneering LGBT gem with this funny, smart and intensely lovable road-trip comedy – an anti-Crocodile Dundee. It’s about Tick (Weaving) and Adam (Pearce), Australian drag-queen short of cash who journey from Sydney to Alice Springs where Tick’s estranged straight wife, Marion (Sarah Chadwick), has got them a gig performing in a hotel lounge. This they do in a converted bus that they rename Priscilla and have to repaint, to cover the homophobic graffiti people have been spraying on it. But they must also do in the company of Bernadette, startlingly played by Stamp, a trans woman and artiste who has just been widowed and needs a new life direction.

Our quarrelling trio set off and encounter all sorts of hilarious problems along the way, their only friends and allies being some amused Indigenous Australians and one straight bloke, Bob, a lovely performance from veteran Australian character actor Bill Hunter, who conceives a gallant tendresse for Bernadette. As Tick, Adam and Bernadette surreally show off their exuberant costumes in the middle of the remote Northern Territory, the film starts to resemble a challenging piece of site-specific installation art. This being 1994, Abba are respectfully invoked.

Pearce is lithe, queeny and very buff as Adam, snaking into a local video store and asking for The Texas Chainsaw Mascara, and there are some cheeky gags about Prince Edward’s sexuality. It’s a tremendous film that was ahead of its time on LGBT issues and, in some ways, is ahead of ours.

•This review was amended on 7 June to correct the spelling of Guy Pearce’s surname.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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