Most impressive, busy and raucous film of Elton John's (as played by Taron Egerton) life, from his boyhood showing early composing talent, up to and through his fame years revealing ever-turbulent relationships, including sexuality, right up to, though not quite confirming, his control with professional help of his multiple addictions, principally drink, drugs and sex. (His long and continuing abstinences are confirmed in the final captions). However the film is less of a biopic than a re-imagining of key moments, times in which he's always in conflict with those around him (including both parents) yet amongst it all managing to produce some of the most memorable melodies in all pop music, nearly entirely inspired by the words of his regular lyricist, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell - in a role much more substantial than I was expecting).
His songs, often truncated, are inserted at given, non-predictable points in non-chronological order (which is wise), many of which are extravagantly performed by not only Egerton using his own voice (an extraordinary imitation) but other cast members too, and sometimes enlarged by multi-numbered singing and dancing groups. It reminded me a lot of Ken Russell's flighty creations, whose unique eye-popping style of crazy and florid excesses suits the songs admirably. (The real Elton did, of course, make a cameo appearance in Russell's 'Tommy' [on stilts and in giant bovver boots!] to sing 'Pinball Wizard' which is also performed in this film.)
Casting is all very sound - Richard Madden as his first manager (and lover), Bryce Dallas Howard as his uncaring mother, Steven Mackintosh his regimentally strict father - plus the ever dependable Stephen Graham as sweary record producer, Dick James (who used to be a household name in the 60s and 70s), short-tempered and demanding. But it's Jamie Bell who makes a really mighty impression as Taupin, a figure whose name all of Elton's fame will know, but have, like myself, scant knowledge of the part he played in his partner's career. This film, even if one accepts that it's not the literal truth of what happened, does help to flesh out a man who has been, almost purposefully, invisible. I liked that aspect a lot.
The framework of the film is E.J., ready dressed in red angel get-up when he'd been due to go on stage, crashing in on an A.A. group at Parklands institution, Ca, where he joins the circle of other addicts and starts relating his back story. The film keeps returning to this group after each of the episodes portrayed, which is satisfactory enough as a device, these 'interludes' not slowing down the highly eventful drama at all.
We do see his short-lived, for-appearances-sake marriage to Renate, but the episode is despatched with little fuss.
Much has been said about the Russian 'version' of this film being shorn by over five minutes, and a most crucial few minutes, thus taking out all the several references to homosexuality, an action over which Elton himself has perfectly justifiably made known his displeasure. Having just seen the film intact I can only think that what they've done is to remove the heart of the film - all references to and displays of gayness are strategic to Elton's character and it's a tragic illustration of the state of things in that sad country where, if any mention of gays is made at all it has to be negative, otherwise it's regarded as 'propaganda' and therefore 'criminal'! They've even taken the thoroughly mean-spirited measure of removing from the final captions mention of Elton's husband, David Furnish. I do hope that the millions of Elton fans over there are aware of what has happened.
Incidentally Furnish is one of the film's co-producers and E.J. himself one of the executive producers - though I got no sense of any interference from them to sanitise his troubles or, until the concluding captions, to make E.J. into someone heroically battling through his hardships. It's a human and vulnerable Elton we are presented with.
Director Dexter Fletcher ('Sunshine on Leith', plus finishing off 'Bohemian Rhapsody' after director Bryan Singer had been fired) does an incredible job here. I'd go so far as to argue that he is the true star of this enterprise, and hope he gets recognition for this marvellous achievement come awards time.
Before I saw this film I'd had doubts about Taron Egerton who, in just the trailer, wasn't quite successfully looking the part in the way that Rami Malek captured Freddy Mercury spot on. If he still lacks here the last ounce of visual authenticity there is absolutely no doubt that his singing imitation is phenomenal. And as an actor in this he has to cover a wide spectrum of moods and he does it all very finely, including reflecting many moments of unspoken inner turmoil, so no complaints on those grounds.
I can't imagine any Elton fans missing this film and, equally, can't imagine many being disappointed. I wasn't - quite the reverse, in fact. I hadn't honestly expected it to be an early contender for inclusion in my Top Ten of the year, but it's up there. If you're intrigued or even just wavering, do go. It's a riot!..............8.
(IMDb...................7.7 / Rott.Toms.........4.4/5 )
3 hours ago