A man with orange wings, a horned cap and an orange sequinned jumpsuit and platform heels strides through a backlit corridor and into a room. He sits in a chair, introduces himself as Elton Hercules John and proceeds to strip himself bare, literally and metaphorically.
Through flashbacks and some creative liberties with the facts, writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher take us to Reginald Dwight’s loveless childhood – with an absent and disinterested father (Steven Mackintosh), a bitter mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) and caring grandmother (Gemma Jones) – into his confused and shy adolescence. In his dramatic twenties, we see the ups (a showman and millionaire at 25) and downs (the trappings of stardom).
Taron Egerton, his square jaw notwithstanding, throws body and soul into this origin story about the iconic British singer-performer who went from Reginald to Elton and from child piano prodigy to one of the world’s most popular pop singers. Watching Elton compose Your Song is a goosebumps moment, and you find yourself humming along to Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word and I’m Still Standing. There are introductions and hints to some other hit songs, such as the haunting Daniel and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, the delightful duet with Kiki Dee.
The film is also part-tribute to John’s long-term friend and collaborator Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), with whom he co-wrote some of his biggest hits, including Border Song, Candle in the Wind and Rocket Man.
Subtlety was not Elton John’s calling card. The screenplay, production design and costumes pay equal homage to the man’s music and his penchant for drama – Versace robes, flamboyant headdresses, sunglasses of all shapes, shades and sequins. I especially enjoyed the details in the story, such as how he picked the name Elton John and his brief marriage to Renate Blauel.
Richard Madden plays John Reid, Elton’s music manager (a character who also appeared in the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody). Reid not only managed John, but was also his lover, and is credited with encouraging Elton to adopt the flamboyant costumes and embrace a hedonistic lifestyle of substance abuse and extravagance that accentuated self-loathing and self-doubt.
Rocketman catalogues John’s rise, fall and rebirth. The biopic explores his angst as a shy boy finding his voice, as a gay man coming to terms with his identity, and as a musician claiming the spotlight. His songs nudge the story along, sometimes seamlessly fitting into the narrative, and at other times awkwardly sticking out.
If one misses anything, it would be a big performance piece, such as the Live Aid recreation in Bohemian Rhapsody (co-directed by Fletcher). But then you have Taron Egerton – front and centre, flashy and electrifying.