Rocketman: The Elton Movie

So many people tried to tell me how amazing Bohemian Rhapsody was.

It wasn’t bad, but I did think it was a bit of a lame and sanitised homage to Freddy with insufficient detail on the others (especially Brian May). It was also a tad bland – but if you pushed me to really identify what was wrong, I would have struggled.

Until tonight.

Tonight I saw Rocketman – the Elton John story – and was blown away. The missing ingredient in Bohemian Rhapsody was magic – and Rocketman had it in bucketloads.

* * *

The biggest mistake Bohemian Rhapsody made was this – they forgot they were making a film. They were so busy trying to be accurate and fair they even made Remi Malek wear a stupid dental prosthesis which stopped him from talking properly. It’s like hiring George Clooney to play Chewbacca! The end result was a bland documentary that was mildly entertaining, but it didn’t feel like a movie.

In very stark contrast – you knew from the opening moments that Rocketman was entirely different. Gorgeously shot – dramatic – other-worldly – it straight away took you inside Elton’s life experience from his confronting and unsentimental childhood all the way to his breakdown in 1990.

Every step of the journey was told through the prism of his songs and it was just masterful the way Bernie Taupin’s lyrics were occasionally used to counterpoint the on-screen action. There were several intensely moving scenes crafted around Elton’s song-writing even as other dramatic segues were occurring in his life – not least the development of his song-writing relationship with Bernie and his marriage to Renata – which was over in a flash.

In these comparatively liberated days it’s easy to forget that homosexuality was still against the law back in the 60s and 70s when Elton was growing up – it must have been hard being a public figure (and sex symbol) all the while knowing the fate of (say) Oscar Wilde was still a possibility. Elton’s sexuality was clearly a major part of who he was growing up and the film dealt very tastefully with that without getting either preachy or overly graphic.

Probably the toughest aspect of the film was the way it dealt with his father and mother. That was unflinching and raw and I couldn’t help but admire the restraint with which those relationships were portrayed. It would have been easy for the writers to really put the boot in there but they held back while still giving you a powerful feel for Elton’s dignified devastation.

Elton must have been delighted with Taron Egerton’s performance. He was just superb and that pretty much sets the benchmark for a rock biopic portrayal. As does the movie itself. It will be a long, long time before another movie tells the story of a rock star or band without going too far down the bland documentary path or the overly fanciful and self-serving path.

Rocketman told a fantastic story in a fantastically cinematic way – giving the fans a wonderful insight into the creative process and the chaos behind the scenes. If I have one bone to pick, the film did fail to mention his greatest shame of all – being a Watford fan. But it would be churlish of me to criticise too much when I was so thoroughly entertained and educated.

I gave Bohemian Rhapsody 3 Stars – it did fairly well what it set out to do. Rocketman was way more ambitious and will be in my head a very long time indeed. I look forward to the writer and director now taking on David Bowie.

4.5 Stars (on the basis that I never give 5)

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