Nigel Watson reviews Rocketman, showing in our cinema until Thursday 27 June.
Director Dexter Fletcher helms a flamboyant and at times disturbing psychedelic vision of Elton John’s life story, that like the Rocketman of the film’s title, sensationally blasts across the screen in a blur of screaming colour.
Storming into an addiction rehabilitation meeting, dressed in an extravagant Satan costume, Taron Egerton as Elton John recalls his rise to fame in flashback. For a start he did not have a very happy childhood, even though he lived in a cosy suburban home and he was physically well-treated, psychologically he was isolated and lonely. His father Stanley played by Steven Mackintosh is distant and his mother Sheila played by Bryce Dallas Howard is self-centred and feckless. Only his grandmother helps him to nurture his talent as a piano player.
As an adult he plays as a backup player for a jazz band. His road to stardom is eventually launched in a humours scene where he meets Dick James played as a very grumpy git by Stephen Graham. James’ publishing company held the rights to the Beatles catalogue and he demands songs as good from Elton, and on a whim teams him up with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). They quickly become friends and their collaboration gives fruit to a string of hits, and the rest of course is pop music history.
The rise to the top almost seems easy compared to the cynical doings of the music industry and the people who live off the creative sweat of Elton. Smooth talking manager John Reid played by Richard Madden is singled out as being particularly manipulative and uncaring.
The anonymous people, wild parties, alcohol, drugs and a sense of despair allied with losing touch with reality send Elton into a downward spiral that eventually leads to his arrival at the rehabilitation meeting.
Not surprisingly the film has been censored or even banned in some quarters due to its portrayal of homosexuality and drug usage, yet this takes out the major essence of the film and what makes Elton tick.
Fletcher perfectly portrays the rollercoaster existence of those who rocket into the celestial heaven of stardom and how lonely and repressed Reginald Dwight turned Elton John into a superstar.
There are highs and lows but all-in-all Rocketman is a wonderful extravaganza with great costumes and set design and powerful performances allied with the hits of Elton and Bernie in imaginative musical sequences.
Rocketman is a cinematic blast.