A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years.
The film is a musical retelling of the early life and breakthrough years of legendary rock star Elton John.
As a child, he was raised by his cold mother Sheila and more caring grandmother Ivy, while his father Stanley never cared for him at all. He took up an interest in music and took piano lessons before performing in a band as an adult. Later, he would meet Bernie Taupin, who would collaborate with him to write his biggest songs. Elton later rises to stardom under the management of John Reid, with whom he has a brief relationship with before Reid proves to be a rotten and greedy person. Elton struggles with his homosexuality and also develops a drug and alcohol problem.
With his life appearing to spiral out of control, Elton finally seeks help and attempts to improve. He no longer feels that he needs anything from his parents or Reid, but he repairs his friendship with Bernie before getting better and returning to perform.;
Today, Elton John has been sober for nearly 30 years, remains friends and collaborators with Bernie Taupin, and he has found true love with David Furnish, and they are raising two sons together.
NOTE: The film is presented as a musical featuring Elton John’s music.
The film starts with superstar rocker Elton Hercules John (Taron Egerton) walking into a room while wearing a gaudy orange devil-type outfit like he’s about to perform. It turns out he is really attending a group meeting for addicts. He sits down to join the group and explains that he is a drug and sex addict, plus an alcoholic, and he wants to get better before it gets worse. The group coordinator asks Elton to talk about his childhood.
Elton, then known simply as Reginald Kenneth “Reggie” Dwight (here played by Matthew Illesley), was a shy but polite child living in Middlesex (“The Bitch is Back”) with his emotionally vacant mother Sheila Eileen (Bryce Dallas Howard) and more loving grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones). His father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) is even worse than his mother, as he constantly controls his son’s actions and doesn’t even bother with showing him affection. Reggie then starts to take an interest in music, and so Sheila and Ivy sign him up for piano lessons.
As a teen (now played by Kit Connor), Reggie starts to attend a music Academy to improve his skills. At one point, Reggie catches Sheila in a car with another man, Fred (Tom Bennett). Stanley finds out and uses it as an opportunity to leave for good. Reggie is distraught that Stanley didn’t even bother to say goodbye to him.
Reggie then plays at a nearby pub in front of Sheila and Ivy, plus a bunch of rude drunks. He shows off his talent (“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”) and grows into a performer where he joins his own band, Bluesology. The group gets booked to do shows for 2 quid a week each. They meet and play with another musician named Wilson (Jason Pennycooke) and his group. Reggie takes notes from him, and also starts to take his sexuality into account when Wilson kisses him before a show one night. Reggie even considers changing his name, taking “Elton” from the band’s sax player Elton Dean (Evan Walsh), who doesn’t approve of Reggie taking the name idea.
Reggie then answers an ad from music executive Ray Williams (Charlie Rowe) and meets with him. He plays a bit of the piano for him and impresses Ray, and when he asks his name, Reggie officially calls himself Elton John (taking “John” from a picture of The Beatles). Ray’s boss Dick James (Stephen Graham) comes in and orders Ray out of his office. Before Elton leaves, Ray gives him a folder with written songs in it and tells him to look them over.
Elton contacts the songs’ writer, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). The two meet for the first time in a restaurant where they express a shared love for music by singing “Streets of Laredo”. The two live separately and collaborate for music, but when they present the songs to Dick, he calls it all rubbish and suggests the two live together so that they can work together and know how to write better music. Elton and Bernie then find a place to live in, and Elton begins to see their landlady, Arabella. However, Wilson and his bandmates know Elton is actually gay. He asks Bernie if he would have a problem with that, and Bernie sincerely tells him he has no problem with it. Unfortunately, when Arabella finds out, she kicks both men out, forcing them to go back and live with Sheila.
Elton and Bernie start to create music that Dick loves (“Your Song”), and he books them shows in America at The Troubadour. They travel with Ray and meet the club’s manager Doug Weston (Tate Donovan). Just before their debut performance, Elton hides in the bathroom and gets nervous when he hears that already established acts are performing before him, but Ray and Bernie make him go out to play. Elton gets behind the piano and starts to play “Crocodile Rock”, which the whole audience loves and joins him onstage to dance to. Later, the guys attend a party at Mama Cass’s where Elton meets music producer John Reid (Richard Madden). He liked what he heard from Elton, but also appears to have more than a musical interest in him. The two go to a room where they have sex.
Upon returning to the UK, Elton and Bernie part ways with a dismayed Dick and Ray to start working for Reid. He helps build Elton’s career and helps him skyrocket to superstar status. Meanwhile, Elton continues to struggle with personal problems. He pays Stanley a visit in his new home and sees that he has two young sons that he seems to care for more than he ever did with Elton. Stanley shows Elton that he has a record of his and asks if he could sign it, but rather for a co-worker of his instead of himself. As Elton leaves Stanley for the last time, he sees the man pick up one of his sons affectionately, bringing Elton to tears. In the present day as he recounts this, he becomes angered and throws his chair, and also starts to gradually shed his outfit.
Elton is seen recording “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Kiki Dee (Rachel Muldoon), but he has them take a quick break so that he and Reid can have sex in a nearby room.
On their way to a show, Elton orders the driver to stop a car so he can run to a phone booth and call Sheila to come out to her. She says she has always known and doesn’t really care about it, but she tells her son that he is choosing to be alone forever. After the call, Reid shows his more abusive and controlling side by ordering Elton to get himself together and perform. Elton even later catches him receiving a blowjob from his secretary. To hide his sorrows and insecurities, Elton starts to drink, do drugs, and wear flashy but ridiculous outfits.
Elton starts to become more emotionally unstable and depressed. During a party, he takes a handful of pills and a large swig of vodka before going to the pool to announce to everyone that he is going to kill himself. He falls into the pool and lets himself sink to the bottom where he sees a vision of himself as a child playing “Rocketman”. The other partygoers and medics pull Elton out of the water and have his stomach pumped. This transitions to him performing “Rocketman” in concert.
Sometime in the 80’s, Elton meets Renate Blauel (Celine Schoenmaker) and later marries her, but the marriage quickly proves to be a loveless sham, and they divorce soon enough.
Elton finds out that Reid has been skimming money from his record sales. He wants to get rid of John, but the smug prick reminds him that he’ll still be collecting his 20% even if Elton kills himself. Elton later has dinner with Sheila and Fred (whom she has long since married), which turns sour quick when they get into an argument, and Sheila says she has always found being his mother to be an embarrassment. This carries over to Elton and Bernie getting into a fight.
Elton is set to perform at Madison Square Garden in the devil outfit he was seen in earlier, but as he starts to do some coke, his nose starts to bleed. Realizing he has a serious problem, he bails from the concert and heads to the group therapy session. With him finished telling his story, he then has a vision of every major person in his life (Sheila, Stanley, Ivy, Bernie, and Reid) talking to him. Ivy remains encouraging, and Elton says he no longer cares for his parents’ opinions. He also doesn’t feel controlled by Reid anymore, and he remains firm in his friendship with Bernie. He then sees his younger self and gives him the hug he always wanted. Elton later stays in a rehab center where he is visited by Bernie, who calls Elton his brother.
Elton later gets better and continues to perform (“I’m Still Standing”).
The final text states that Elton John has been sober for nearly 30 years. He organized a charity for people around the world with AIDS, and he has found love for the last 25 years with David Furnish. He and Bernie Taupin have been collaborating for the last 50 years, and they remain great friends to this day. Elton has retired from touring to focus on raising his sons Zachary and Elijah with David.