Everything Rocketman Got Wrong About Elton John’s Life

Turning someone’s life into a two-hour film is no easy feat.

After all, lives are rarely lived in the neat, easy-to-track fashion that storytelling requires. They’re messy, they’re don’t tend to move in a straight line, and they’re almost never in perfect black-and-white. And so, the idea of compressing all that color, all that craziness, all that commotion down into a narrative that audiences can comfortably comprehend? Downright impossible.

So details are flubbed, characters are omitted or combined or made more of a villain (or hero) than they ever were in real life, and timelines are rearranged all in the service of a bigger picture. It’s a fine line to walk, but if you get the essence of the person right and the grand scheme of things across, well, for some filmmakers, that’s a job well done enough.

And Rocketman is no different.

The new Elton John biopic, starring Taron Egerton in the lead role supported by a cast that includes Richard Madden, Jamie Bell and Bryce Dallas Howard, is a two-hour musical fantasia that gets things pretty close to right—and for director Dexter Fletcher (who, coincidentally, was brought on to finish the similarly factually-challenged Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody after director Bryan Singer was relieved of his duties) and screenwriter Lee Hall, that was good enough.

“It’s not a biopic, per se, but really a story of Elton John unpacking all of his issues and baggage whilst in rehab,” Fletcher told Thrillist. “I think it’s about being as honest with your approach as you possibly can, and not trying to sugarcoat or hide anything. And, obviously, you can’t cover everything. We’re talking about two hours long, trying to fit in 35 years of a life, or more. So you can’t cover everything, you have to be selective.”

“I didn’t have to be a slave to the chronology of when the songs were written or what they got written about, I just used them like in a musical, in that way,” he continued. “And the more I exploited that opportunity, the more fantasy elements came into it, the more I would find things like ‘I Want Love,’ which happens in this sort of domestic family home, or ‘Saturday Night’s Alright,’ or ‘Rocket Man’ at the bottom of the swimming pool, the Troubadour sequence. They’re all flights of memory and feelings rather than fact.”

And that was quite alright for the subject of the film, who served as a somewhat hands-off executive producer, as he wrote in The Guardian upon Rocketman’s release. 

“Some studios wanted us to lose the fantasy element and make a more straightforward biopic, but that was missing the point,” Elton said. “It’s obviously not all true, but it’s the truth.”

So what’s true and what’s just the “truth”? We’re glad you asked. 

Rocketman, Charlie Rowe, Taron Egerton

Paramount Pictures

Rocketman, Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell

Paramount Pictures

Elton John, Renate Blauel, 1984

Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Rocketman, Taron Egerton, Richard Madden

Paramount Pictures

Rocketman, Richard Madden

Paramount Pictures

Rocketman fact vs. fiction, Elton John and Rod Stewart

Graham Wiltshire/Getty Images



Rocketman, Taron Egerton

Paramount Pictures

Rocketman fact vs. fiction, Ryan White and Elton John

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Rocketman, Taron Egerton

Paramount Pictures

Rocketman is in theaters now.