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In director Dexter Fletcher’s musical-fantasy biopic Rocketman, the story of Elton John’s origins, triumphs, and struggles in the music industry are shown in connection to his relationship with then-manager John Reid. Played by Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden, Reid is played off as basically the villain in the story of Elton John’s rise to fame, and his attempts to cope with its pressures through drugs and drink.
What makes for even more of an interesting note is the fact that last year, another big ticket biopic highlighted the contributions of John Reid to the music industry. In the case of Bohemian Rhapsody though, there’s a big difference with John Reid’s depiction in the very same film that Dexter Fletcher helped direct not too long before jumping into Rocketman.
Comparing the two versions of John Reid is an interesting exercise, especially when discussing how both films tackle their very similar subject matter. With that in mind, here’s the full story of why John Reid is in both Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, and how he’s portrayed in both films.
John Reid’s Connection To Both Elton John And Freddie Mercury
As a musical manager, John Reid handled two of the hottest clients anyone could have ever gotten their hands on in the 1970s: Elton John and Queen. In the case of Elton John, despite Rocketman’s sentiments that John was free from his manager’s grasp by the end of the film, the truth is that John Reid actually managed Elton John from his signing in 1970 until 1998, just a year short of his retirement from music management.
His tenure with Queen was shorter lived, and apparently not as dramatic as his firing in Bohemian Rhapsody was depicted. Serving as the manager to the band between 1975 and 1978, the parting between the band and John Reid was mutually friendly. Though these portraits of John Reid and his service to the music industry do draw interesting contrasts to how both Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody use him for their narrative purposes.
How John Reid Is Portrayed In Rocketman
In Rocketman, Richard Madden’s John Reid is initially shown as a romantic figure whom Taron Egerton’s Elton John falls naively in love with. Eventually, their relationship sours as Reid turns into a character more focused on his business empire who enjoys making money off of representing John’s career, rather than truly loving Elton. By the end of the film, Elton John seems to have made peace with their relationship not being an authentic one, and learns to love himself again.
Were a biopic to have a need for a villain, Rocketman’s John Reid definitely qualifies as one. With his seemingly cold-hearted demeanor when dealing with Elton John, particularly as his excesses and insecurity consume him in the film, he’s made out to be the big bad of the film’s story. While his portrayal in Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t all sunshine and rainbows either, it certainly paints him to a lesser degree of villainy.
How John Reid Is Portrayed In Bohemian Rhapsody
Portrayed by fellow Game of Thrones alum Aiden Gillen, Bohemian Rhapsody’s John Reid is a gentler figure than shown in Rocketman. Meeting the band in the now infamously edited pub scene, Reid seems to get the cut of the band’s jib. For most of the film, John Reid is seen as sort of a yes man to the band, as he defends their artistic vision in front of Mike Myers’ Ray Foster, as the latter tries to stifle the vision of both “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the album it called its home, A Night At The Opera.
Though when the time comes to pick an alternate single when Bohemian Rhapsody’s titular track is in danger, this version of John Reid doesn’t shy away from throwing out other options. Then, of course, there’s the big firing scene, where Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury fires John Reid for even suggesting he go solo in the name of a lucrative offer. Which, as was pointed out previously, was debunked by Queen’s following manager Jim “Miami” Beach. The parting, according to Beach, was on really friendly terms.
Why Rocketman And Bohemian Rhapsody Never Crossed Over
Now some of you may be thinking about how fun a crossover between both Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody could have been. Two huge musical biopics, with John Reid adjacent to the action and taking place during the same era, might have been a shoo-in for at least one crossover scene. Even more so when accounting the fact Dexter Fletcher worked as a director on both. But that prospect was dismissed by Fletcher himself for a pretty sound reason. He noted:
There was an idea I had one point, where Elton’s in a restaurant with his mother. I thought John Reid and Freddie could be at another table and they wave at each other! That would have been amazing, [but] it didn’t come to pass.’ It would’ve been a little too knowing. I’m not looking to set out to make a cinematic universe!
As much of a musical fantasy as Rocketman is supposed to be, a wink and a nod cameo by Rami Malek reprising the role of Freddie Mercury would have been just a hair too much. Even Fletcher himself stated that he didn’t want the audience to think that he was all of a sudden creating a musical biopic cinematic universe. Just as easily as the thought of Mercury and John Reid toasting Elton John in one of the film’s dour restaurant scenes had occurred, the concept was dashed, and history took its natural course.
With two varying depictions of his career in the ‘70s on screen, John Reid’s legacy as a musical manager means very different things depending on which film you’re running with. In terms of Bohemian Rhapsody, he was a bit of an overly ambitious man who knew how to play both sides so as to smooth over negotiations on both sides. While Rocketman shows Reid as more of an icy businessman who isn’t afraid to push Elton John to his limits and has him performing shows even shortly after a heart attack.
Biopics show their subjects in the best light possible to tell their story, and both films have done just that. So while neither may adhere solely to the letter of history, they’ve used the real events that John Reid was a part of, and turned them into box office victory.