MUSICAL BIOPICS ARE always complicated and oft dangerous affairs. They may be about not letting the facts get in the way of a good yarn, as they may find themselves compromised by a quest to find actors who look the part rather than have the skills or the soul. And then, what is their value from an historical or a documentary point of view? Are they just about entertainment? In making Rocketman, the tribute to British-born rock star Elton John, into a fantasy musical, its director Dexter Fletcher forces the project to leap over the complexities of earnest documentary truth and ramp up the camp as far as it will go.
And thus Rocketman reaches beyond the limitations of Bohemian Rhapsody. While Taron Egerton in the role of John as an adult, has a gap in his two front teeth (emulating the dental structure of John) added with some careful make up, he doesn’t pose the same credibility issues as Rami Malek did as Freddie Mercury. And the two films do beg comparison, not only for the larger-than-life elements of the performers central to the films, but also because of the close attention to stage costumes, press-captured moments and performed songs central to each work.
All the elements of a classic hero-centred tale are here, dotted with a selection from John’s prolific body of songs, from Daniel (released in 1973, and the first single in his fabulous LP of that year, Don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player) to I’m Still Standing (released just ten years later) that get the nostalgia vote every time, even if just a few bars of each are played. But it is in its fantasy elements that Rocketman reaches beyond any musical biopic’s limitation and become sheer adoration of lyrics that were magicked into popular life with a bit of pianistic experimentation. With the wonderful young actor Jamie Bell in the role of John’s long time lyricist Bernie Taupin, who you may remember from his performance in Filmstars Don’t Die in Liverpool, or his film debut in 2000 in Billy Elliot, to the extraordinary platform-heeled shoes and spectacular spectacle frames which helped John keep the magic alive, no holds are barred.
In presenting the classic situation of a profoundly talented gay boy born to dead ordinary provincial parents who shy from too much attention, this kind of story has been told many times before, including in films such as Christiaan Olwagen’s Kanarie, but you will love Rocketman not necessarily for its narrative content or the manner in which John’s parents are handled in a particularly critical light, but rather for the way in which possibility and costume, music and dream are woven together in a unjudgemental phantasmagorical understanding of drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll from the inside out.
- Rocketman is directed by Dexter Fletcher and is performed by Titilayo Abiola, Natalie Adams, Charles Armstrong, Mark Atkin, Alison Ball, Guillermo Bedward, Jamie Bell, Tom Bennett, Dempsey Bovell, Lee Bridgman, Rob Callender, Sharon D. Clarke, Kit Connor, Leon Cooke, Max Croes, Sian Crisp, Stevee Davies, Rebecca Davis, Ross Dawes, Tate Donovan, David Doyle, Barbara Drennan, Taron Egerton, Ross Farrelly, Graham Fletcher-Cook, Leigh Francis, Demetri Goritsas, Stephen Graham, Sharmina Harrower, Micah Holmes, Bryce Dallas Howard, Matthew Illesley, Alex James-Phelps, Gemma Jones, Juozas, Alexia Khadime, Benjamin Lok, Ophelia Lovibond, Steven Mackintosh, Max Mackintosh, Eddie Mann, Benjamin Mason, Aston McAuley, Pete McCabe, Josh McClorey, Dale Monie, Rachel Muldoon, Peter O’Hanlon, Jason Pennycooke, Diana Alexandra Pocol, Alexa Povah, John Reid, Charlie Rowe, Celinde Schoenmaker, Danielle Scott, Jason Sellars, Fabian Sgoluppi, Carl Spencer, Dickon Tolson, Nia Towle, Jimmy Vee, Evan Walsh, Harriet Walter, Leon Delroy Williams. It is written by Lee Hall, and, produced by Adam Bohling, David Furnish, David Reid and Matthew Vaughn, it features creative input by Matthew Margeson (music), George Richmond (cinematography), Chris Dickens (editing), Pippa Ailion, Jo Hawes and Reg Poerscout-Edgerton (casting), Peter Francis and Marcus Rowland (production design), Kimberley Fahey and Judy Farr (set) and Julian Day (costumes). Release date: June 7 2019.