If a #biopic is film's equivalent to a tribute act in pop music then Rocketman contains elements of both; as Taron Egerton plays Elton John on a dazzling ride through success and excess. Whilst a broadly chronological account of Elton's life up to 1983; the film is framed like a musical with songs representing different stages in his life.
The story begins with Elton stomping into rehab and declaring something of a full house: addicted to drugs, alcohol and sex with occasional bouts of bulimia thrown in, oh he also has issues with shopping. Elton reconnects with his younger self in the austerity of 1950s Britain and slowly begins to make sense of his life. We are quickly introduced to unemotional father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), flirtatious mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and affectionate granny Ivy (Gemma Jones). The template is set early on in Rocketman as the family join ensemble on I want love; a technique that works throughout, particularly with the strong narrative offered in each song.
Key events in his early life are neatly tied up to form a storyline; his rejection of Reg Dwight in favour of a new ID; early gigs with Bluesology and touring with Wilson Pickett all lead to the big game changer; a meeting with music publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) and eventual coupling with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). His relationship with kindly James later crumbles as predatory manager John Reid (Richard Madden) looms into view. Like all biopics, the fast forward button has to be pushed at some point; six years between his breakthrough at the Troubadour and first number one with Kiki Dee was crammed into barely two minutes.
This sharp piece of editing did however; make way for deeper analysis of Elton's relationships. His unrequited passion for Bernie Taupin; ill-fated marriage to Renate Blauel and corrosive affair with manager John Reid all help to explain a complex personality. The musical staging may grate on some but this is masterful storytelling in the hands of skilled director Dexter Fletcher. The fantasy sequences are beautifully shot and present one of life’s enduring questions: having lived our lives what would we say to our younger selves? An excellent cast find real empathy with the story and Taron Egerton has perfectly captured a persona without need for exaggeration. You sense a scriptwriter would struggle to create a character like Elton John; but sometimes the truth can be more gripping than any fiction we dare to dream.
Watch the Rocketman movie trailer below.