With the release of Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher’s free-wheeling, surrealist musical saluting Sir Elton Hercules John, it’s clear the rock-and-roll biopic is Hollywood’s new idée fixe. The film follows the release of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), the award-winning celebration of Freddie Mercury, for which Fletcher replaced Brian Singer as director midway through production. Comparisons between these two portrayals of queer rock icons are inevitable. Where Bohemian Rhapsody has no qualms depicting Freddie Mercury’s party-fuelled demise as penance for his sexuality, Rocketman paints John’s queerness in more celebratory hues.
The film begins with an AA meeting where John (Taron Egerton), stage-ready and glittering in a winged devil costume, is forced to confront his demons – cocaine, prescription medication, liquor, shopping, and sex addictions, to name just a few. We then rewind to the 1950s in humble Middlesex, England, where Reginald Dwight (John’s original name) is a musical prodigy with a preternatural ability to replicate on piano any composition he hears. Here, Dwight yearns to impress his distant father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), who is a stoic Air Force pilot and jazz enthusiast. These early scenes glow, particularly through two hugely enjoyable performances by Matthew Illesley as the young Dwight and Kit Connor as his teenage self.