WORTH A LOOK?: *****
RUNTIME: 121 minutes
OUT: 22/5/2019 (UK certificate 15)
We are living in a golden age of musical biopics being wonderfully realised by Hollywood and the director here, Dexter Fletcher, completed work on last year’s Oscar-winning Bohemian Rhapsody which will inevitably be compared with this.
- Read on for reasons including how this could easily be adapted to a West End musical
Rocketman is a rehab confessional which differs in many ways from Bo Rhap not least that its 15 certificate allows it to examine John’s homosexuality in ways that the Freddie Mercury biopic drew criticism for shying away from.
Taron Egerton’s John might not win him the Best Actor Oscar scooped by Bo Rhap‘s Rami Malek but he has down to a tee the childlike enthusiasm, impetuosity and addict-fuelled rage which coarse through his veins.
We’re much less keen on John’s back catalogue than Queen’s but the dream-like structure of the film (Sharon D. Clarke plays a counsellor hearing his woes) allows our unreliable narrator to play fast and loose with his rise and fall.
Especially strong is the use of a song we were unfamiliar with – I Want Love – as young piano prodigy John is impressing the Royal Academy of Music but his estranged parents (Steven Mackintosh especially infuriating and Bryce Dallas Howard almost unrecognisable) leave him longing for a hug.
Elsewhere, the ensemble is especially strong and we very much enjoyed Gemma Jones as John’s kindly grandmother (you may remember her from God’s Own Country), Bodyguard‘s Richard Madden as an untrustworthy manager and Line Of Duty‘s Stephen Graham as a comedy counterpart.
Your Song is probably the most moving of the songs here and its genesis is recreated beautifully. It featured memorably in film Moulin Rouge and the dreamlike fantasia mood of that film is evoked by many of the wonderfully realised musical set pieces here.
The story is actually much more satisfying than the historically inaccurate Bo Rhap and the hugging motif plus platonic love story with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell is the lyricist whose acceptance and friendship signpost John to a happier future) are ultimately more satisfying.
We were baffled by the furore around the inclusion of the film’s 40-second sex scene between Egerton and Madden because it really is tastefully shot and, in many ways, if the 12A Bo Rhap hadn’t made quite so much, $900 million-plus as we write, there might have been greater pressure to tone it down.
We saw this in a full-to-the-brim cinema in Greenwich and the audience of mixed ages seemed to love Rocketman as much as we did. We predict it will next appear as a rocket-fuelled musical in the West End. Out of this world.