Drenched in glitter, copious amounts of vodka and a surprising amount of emotion is the new film about Elton John – Rocketman. The film follows John’s huge rise to fame in the 1970’s, from his humble upbringing in suburban Britain, to massive sell out shows at Madison Square Garden. Taron Egerton plays Elton, first seen in the film waltzing into a rehab facility wearing what can only be described as one of the most flamboyant outfits ever captured on screen. He is dripping in orange rhinestones, flares, horns and even red angels wings. Whilst sat disenchanted and downtrodden, Elton realises he is at a crisis point and begins to look back at his tumultuous life.
Young Reginald Kenneth Dwight, as he was once known, was a dab hand at the piano from an early age, picking it up just from hearing a few notes and replicating them. Son to a disgruntled mother and a practically absent father, Reg at least had the support from his grandmother who encouraged him to get piano lessons. After getting a scholarship with a music school, he soon realises that what he really wants is to be a star. Following some gigs in a backing band, Reginald decides to change his name to Elton John. His clothes become louder, his hair shaggier and he discovers the famous jazzy sunglasses look. Elton strikes up a friendship with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who writes lyrics that Elton puts music too. Before you know it, he is twinkling away the first few lines of “Your Song”.
With a growing catalogue of potential hits, Elton eventually gets signed by a record company who are keen to get him to the US audience. He is sent to the famous Troubadour club, and the rest is history. There he meets PR stud John Reid (Richard Madden) who sees Elton’s potential from the get go, and he soon becomes not only his manager but lover as well. Reid elevates Elton to pure stardom as the fans get more manic, and the drugs stronger. But what he soon learns is that it can be pretty lonely at the top….
Rocketman has a unique, whimsical feeling to it, making it as entertaining as it is enthralling. The musical numbers (and there are plenty) feel organic, and flow with ease into the story. It feels less stuffy than other recent music based efforts like Bohemian Rhapsody. The choreography of scenes is inventive and the musical transitions feel natural. The film is bursting with an unrelenting energy for the get go, and it truly is infectious.
Taron Egerton is a revelation in this film. As Elton his role is the polar opposite of his role as the chav Eggsy in the Kingsman, and it just goes to show what a versatile actor he is. His transformation into Elton John is astonishing. Egerton brings wit, charisma and the vital vulnerability needed to step into the role. He handles the comedy and drama with equal spades of enthusiasm and control. His voice is fantastic – who knew he could sing so well! He had big (platform) shoes to fill.
Jamie Bell works well as his best friend and writing partner, and it is good to see him back in the limelight after so long being off the radar. Richard Madden gets less to do unfortunately. The relationship between John Reid and Elton feels rushed and then the breakdown feels glossed over with the same haste. Reid becomes the scoundrel of the story that is hinted at he would, leaving Madden with hardly any character development beyond the smarmy hair and persistent winking.
But, as expected this is Elton’s tale front stage and centre, and it is most certainly his side of the story, which at times as the audience makes you wonder…is this all true? The film is scattered with dreamlike sequences that take on a fantasy feel – hinting at his distorted mind as he delves deeper into his cocaine and booze filled downfall. A highlight is when we see Elton submerge himself into a swimming pool singing Rocketman to his former child self.
What it lacks in some side character development, it makes up in its own charm and pure ambition. We have seen the rise to fame film a million times before, but this brings a nuanced approach with an outstanding soundtrack to boot. All in all, this is a vibrant, confident and joyful film with a stunning performance from Egerton playing one of the most iconic songwriters of a generation. You’ll be humming Tiny Dancer for weeks after. A sheer delight.