After the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody surprised everybody by becoming a global phenomenon and claiming four Oscars, attention inevitably turns to Rocketman. A fantasy musical of singer-pianist Elton John, it covers similar territory to Bohemian Rhapsody – not least because it’s directed by Dexter Fletcher, the filmmaker drafted in to finish the Queen film after Bryan Singer was fired. If Fletcher was previously a gun-for-hire on a rescue mission, here he’s able to cut loose, with a script neatly crafted by Billy Elliot scribe Lee Hall.
Casting Fletcher’s Eddie The Eagle star Taron Egerton as “the fat boy from Pinner”, as he calls himself, the film charts his rise from suburban nobody to a multi-millionaire at 25, embracing his enduring partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) along the way. Born plain old Reginald Dwight with parents (Steven Mackintosh, Bryce Dallas Howard) he feels distant from, John’s emotional life forms the backbone to the film, which looks at homosexuality and how issues with addiction have affected him.
Really, though, Rocketman comes alive in the musical numbers – brilliantly performed and sung by Egerton. Fletcher doesn’t offer literal interpretations here, often using the songs to chime with Elton’s psychological state. So, for example, when he comes on stage to perform Crocodile Rock at the Troubadour in L.A., the legendary venue that sees his career take off, so does John – quite literally floating above the piano. Other scenes are akin to Busby Berkeley numbers, with choreographed dancers performing lavish routines.
Featuring solid work from the likes of Richard Madden, as John’s manager/lover John Reid, and Stephen Graham as old-school record exec Dick James, it’s all very entertaining. Whether you will ultimately be moved by John’s story is another matter. As drink and drugs take hold, it’s not exactly easy to sympathise with an ego-driven rock star who has it all. But Fletcher directs with such energy, and Egerton performs with such vivacity, it’s hard not to get swept up. By the finale, as he’s singing I’m Still Standing – “looking like a true survivor”, as the song goes – it emerges as a triumphant tale of showbiz resilience.
Rocketman opens on 24 May. For more details, click here.
Stills from Rocketman.