Rocketman – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Writer: Lee Hall (screenplay)
Stars: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
One of the executive producers of this biopic is Sir Elton John himself, so don’t expect anything too close to the bone from this release. It does, however, give the film free range with all his songs. Born in 1947 as Reggie Dwight to Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) and his wife Sheila Eileen (Bryce Dallas Howard) in Pinner, a nondescript, comfortable suburb of greater London. The opening shots are of a group therapy session in some upmarket rehabilitation centre with Elton John (Taron Egerton) arriving in an outlandish costume. It is this device that cuts in and out as aspects of John’s life are revealed. The biopic does not deal with the last twenty five years of his life during which he has been free of drugs and alcohol and living happily with his husband and two sons.
It is the turbulent first half of his life which is examined. So there are early scenes in which he negotiates survival with his parents, the reserved Stanley and the hypercritical Sheila Eileen. The most positive spark in his early life was his Gran; Ivy (Gemma Jones). He showed an innate ability to play the piano, which was a regular piece of furniture in respectable middle-class homes even if not often played. She encouraged him and the film tracks him through his childhood from the five year old Reggie (Matthew Illesley) through to the older Reggie (Kit Connor), the break up of the parents marriage and his arrival in the Royal College of Music. The arrival in his life of the slightly younger lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) is explained. Then success and worldwide fame and what appears to have been an unsatisfactory business and sexual relationship with John Reid (Richard Madden).
Throughout the story is threaded various hit songs of Elton John (which are not in chronological order). They are performed with all the glamour and glitz for which Elton John is renowned. It is the thread of these songs which propels the story along, but the many drug fuelled escapades are related as nightmares from which John wakes with a jolt. Then it is back to the group therapy session. Fletcher cuts and splices these episodes with considerable skill. He is ably assisted in bringing these elements into a comprehensible whole by a fine performance by Egerton as the flamboyant Elton John in full flight.
Considering this film as a sheer spectacle Fletcher has delivered the goods. The unhappy childhood of Reggie Dwight, Elton John’s battle with his sexuality and the challenges of his drug addiction may have been overplayed or underplayed but it does not really matter. Those thoughts are far from your mind as the sheer exuberance of Elton John’s musical life as an entertainer is laid out before you. It was a rollercoaster which he managed to survive unlike many of his predecessors, his contemporaries and his successors in the world of popular music. That is something to celebrate and this film does just that.