Rocketman (2019)

Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden, Gemma Jones, Stephen Graham, Steven Mackintosh

Directed by: Dexter Fletcher

Rating: 1 2 3 4

There comes a moment in every music biopic (and Lord knows I've seen enough of them, from Night & Day to Beyond the Sea to Bohemian Rhapsody) where you realise you're building up to the Big Famous Song. Generally, the clue is in the title. But in that case, Rocketman could easily have been called Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Or Your Song. Or Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me. Or Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. Or I'm Still Standing (But maybe not Don't Go Breaking My Heart and thankfully not Candle In the Wind, as the film is mercifully Diana free.)

But my point is that Elton John has so many massive hit songs that form such an intrinsic part of the fabric of British life that it's hard to pick the most momentous.

Taron Egerton as Elton John and Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin

And boy are these songs celebrated here! A cross between the most glorious, glamorous jukebox musical you've never seen and a traditional rags (okay, repressed middle class comfort) to riches, rise 'n' fall and rise again rock'n'roll fairy tale, like a fragment from Oscar Wilde's spaceship, Rocketman falls to earth squarely into the same magically wonderful playground as (massively underrated) British musical fantasy epics Absolute Beginners, Velvet Goldmine and Across the Universe. Characters both sing to camera and perform as part of the story; fantastical feathers – and audiences – fly; tiaras are sported and tantrums thrown. It's all just simply gorgeous.

At the film's heart is Taron Egerton's lovely characterisation of Elton John, the introverted dreamer turned supreme extroverted performer (and he switches brilliantly between the two), whose life of wild, hedonistic excess finally sees him on his (glittery tracksuited) knees in rehab, reliving the story of his success, from his first forays into live performance, his legendary songwriting partnership with lifelong friend Bernie Taupin (played beautifully by Jamie Bell – and if there's one thing the film makes you appreciate anew it's what an utterly brilliant lyricist Taupin is), his rocky romance with manager John Reid (Richard Madden) and disastrously misguided marriage.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman

Produced by Elton John himself, the film doesn't shy away from portraying its hero as a bit of a dick. Nor does it gloss over his more sordid mistakes – although there is a slightly moralistic 'just say no' tone to the way that the drugs and drink and orgies consistently fail to make our addled, rhinestone-besprinkled hero happy. And at times you feel Egerton isn't given the space to really explore or express the darker, more painful corners of Elton's psyche as another song beckons – but perhaps that was also part of Elton's problem...

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman

Dazzling, decadent and delightful, Rocketman is a lush, lively, lovely romp through a superstar’s early career and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The choreography sparkles as vibrantly as Elton's lovingly recreated, screamingly flamboyant on- and off-stage apparel, the supporting cast are all given small moments to make their mark and shine and the songs give Taupin's marvellous lyrics room to wind their way into your heart.

If you liked the John Lewis Christmas ad, you'll love this.


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