Is this movie about real life? Or is it a fantasy? One thing is for sure, when it comes to Freddie Mercury, there is no escape from the reality that he was a troubled, conflicted, but enigmatic genius, a larger than life personality that this biopic only manages to capture in fits and starts.
It begins with a beautifully shot intro following Mercury (Rami Malek) as he heads onstage for Queen’s iconic 1985 Live Aid performance. Then, we are taken back to 1970 where we get our first glimpse of the man born Farrokh Bulsara, working as a baggage handler in Heathrow Airport, London.
A brief detour to meet his family of Parsi descent later, the movie speeds through his rise to stardom like a rocket ship on the way to Mars. After approaching Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) in a parking lot, he joins their band, Smile, as its new lead singer (along with a certain bassist named John Deacon, played by Joseph Mazzello). He convinces them to rename the band to Queen and together they cut an album, which sets them on the path to immortality.
Along the way, we meet the “love of his life” Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), who would become an integral part of his life, bear witness to the birth of some of Queen’s biggest hits, and on to the inevitable downward spiral of his personal and professional life towards him being diagnosed with AIDS, before finishing with a triumphant recreation of the aforementioned Live Aid performance.
That, is the movie in a nutshell. If you were to use the titles of Queen albums to describe it, this would be more Greatest Hits than Night At The Opera. Though the focus of the movie is very much on Mercury, the treatment of the more controversial and flamboyant parts of his life is hardly mercuric. In fact, much of it is glossed over – his homosexuality is treated like a subject that “should not be named”, while his sometimes turbulent relationship with his bandmates is reduced to petty squabbles and diva-ish outbursts.
Artistic liberties are taken with the actual history of the band and his life, seemingly to make the movie more palatable for mainstream audiences, and the soundtrack checks off each Queen hit, one after another, like a “This Is Queen” playlist on Spotify.
It’s a pity that the subject and subject matter is treated so frivolously, because Malek is electrifying as Mercury. While the false teeth he wears to portray Mercury’s famous overbite is a bit distracting at first, his performance overshadows any physical differences he has with the singer.
Malek nails every single challenge the role presents, especially the confidently flamboyant on-stage performances Mercury was famous for. That aside, he also excels in the more personal off-stage moments – his chemistry with Boynton is one of the movie’s strongest points, as is his camaraderie with his bandmates.
Speaking of his bandmates, I do wish Lee, Hardy and Mazzello had more screen time, especially since the scene where the Queen members are working on Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) is one of the more entertaining parts of the film. (Fun fact for fans of Wayne’s World: Mike Myers even has a cameo as a record executive who rejects Bohemian Rhapsody as a song “no one would sing in their car”).
As it is, Bohemian Rhapsody is a decent enough movie about Freddie Mercury and Queen that unfortunately glosses over the harder truths of Mercury’s life. Instead, it chooses to focus on crowd-pleasing moments that would endear it to fans of the band’s music, but disappoint anyone who was hoping for a more in-depth look into the life of Freddie Mercury.
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Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers