Director Dexter Fletcher knew that if he was going to tackle the life of one of the most flamboyant men in showbusiness, he wouldn’t be able to follow the typical biopic format. For one, the prospect of condensing the singer’s tumultuous life into a staid framework was too immense, but also Elton, who first discussed turning his life into a movie 10 years ago, isn’t a fan of straightforward biopics.
As Elton observes, “My life has not been dull. What I wanted to get across from the movie was the incredible price of fame, the incredible effect one’s upbringing has on you, how lonely it can be and what happens if you don’t address very quickly what you're going through as a person in terms of your addiction and your behaviour patterns. But there has to be a sense of humour to all this as well.”
For Dexter, the idea was to create something that would “genuinely explode off the screen, a riotous joy-ride of imagination, celebration and drama”. “This movie is very personal to me. I connect to it,” says the director who started out as an actor in Bugsy Malone and Press Gang before moving behind the camera with the likes of Sunshine on Leith. “When I read the Lee Hall script, I just knew how to do it. The storytelling allowed me to totally indulge all my crazy ideas. I knew I had a great platform to let loose.”
Taron Egerton was chosen to pull off the gargantuan task of depicting Elton on the big screen. He and Dexter had worked together on Eddie The Eagle, a heart-warming tale about the unlikely Olympian ski jumper, and Matthew Vaughn, a producer on that movie, and this, thought the pair would be a perfect fit once again.
Taron’s performance is remarkable. Not only does he undergo the physical transformation, from the young and anonymous Reginald Dwight to the outrageous superstar performer but depicts Elton’s fragility behind the diva-like persona - and sings all the songs himself too.
In preparation, the actor, who made a name for himself opposite Colin Firth in The Kingsman, was invited over to Elton’s for a curry where the singer showed him his memoirs, the extraordinary outfits, and then they just talked – about everything. “There was nothing I felt I couldn’t ask him, and I felt very quickly he wanted to get to know me and wanted to be part of my life,” says Taron. “What strikes me most is he can simultaneously be this huge personality and command the room, but at times he is the most vulnerable person I’ve ever met, and I feel that way about me.”
The film begins with Elton, wearing full stage regalia, in rehab in 1990, reminiscing about his life before moving back in time, to his childhood in Pinner, where he lived with his supportive grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones), his glamorous but largely distracted mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), and his emotionally aloof father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh). It’s a seamless transition via a big song and dance number, which is used throughout the movie as the story evolves from one chapter to the next. Although there’s a fantastical element, it doesn’t detract from the drama, and hearing Elton’s songs durings different episodes in his life only serves to give the scenes, and the songs themselves, extra resonance.
Jamie Bell puts in an understated performance as the gently spoken lyricist Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden’s enjoyable as Elton’s ambitious lover John Reid, while Stephen Graham, who’s only in a few scenes, manages to raise the laughs as the straight-shooting manager Dick James.
Bohemian Rhapsody might’ve won a raft of awards, including the Oscar for Rami Malek’s depiction of Freddie Mercury, but it felt like it was a heavily censored version of events. Rocketman dives deep, depicting the drug and alcohol abuse, the depression and dejection that haunted Elton’s earlier years, but there’s a sense of hope and redemption by the end. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll leave humming Elton’s biggest hits with a greater appreciation for them.
Rocketman is released on Wednesday, May 22
DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.