(Directed by Dexter Fletcher) (2019) *** & 1/2
This H[B]ollywood-style biopic (with a dash of Across the Universe, in its random song-and-dance numbers performed by the cast) neither persuades nor informs: instead, it scopes back from a stagey Rehab group – showing Elton John at an even lower ebb than when he released the notoriously awful record Victim of Love – and traces his life up to the 1980s, when he roared back with Too Low for Zero and staged a faux wedding to a woman.
Boxes are ticked: there’s the early austere home life with two egocentric parents (very much not in love with each other), reminiscent of the quiet domestic life in The Young Poisoner’s Handbook. Young Reginald shows some ability on the piano, discovers his sexuality, finds he can set music to words, and finally hits the big time.
The Big Time is served with all the trimmings – the curiously placid friendship with his writing Partner, Bernie Taupin, squabbles with the record company, the arrival of Elton’s Svengali, John Reid – and of course, sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
The story is well-known and well-worn, but it doesn’t really matter. Taron Egerton is terrific as Elton, whether decked-out in his outrageous stage-gear or getting coked-up and drunk at home, all pudgy attitude and grotty charm. The songs don’t line up chronologically at all, the surreal touches seem out of place, and the script leaps broadly beyond the realm of authenticity, but you can’t help being moved when Elton nails the tune to Your Song – he and Bernie exchange a look that suggest they feel like Paul McCartney did in the early days when he heard the milkman whistling one of his tunes – or when he apologises to his tearful ‘wife’ Renata at a hearty breakfast of gin and orange – or rips into a live, whirling version of ‘Pinball Wizard’ while changing costumes a half-dozen times – or comes out of the closet on the phone to Mum, who airily waves that away as unimportant. Every mother doesn’t want a boy like Elton, but any human will be enthralled by Elton’s journey. In the final analysis, the colour of this corn is gold.