Genre: Biographical, Drama.
Starring: Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello.
Year Of Release: 2018
Certificate: 12A (UK)
Runtime: 134 Minutes
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer(s): Anthony McCarten & Peter Morgan
Synopsis: “A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen’s legendary appearance at the Live Aid (1985) concert.” IMDB
This 2018 biographical film about the British rock band Queen is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech and Mike Myers.
1970. Living in London studying design, young Zanzibar-born Farrokh Bulsara (Malek) aspires to be a musician. He notices student band ‘Smile’ in need of a new frontman after their lead drops out. ‘Smile’ drummer Roger Taylor (Hardy) and lead guitarist Brian May (Lee) take a chance with Bulsara, who in turn changes his name to Freddie Mercury. The band hire bass player John Deacon (Mazzello) and change their name to ‘Queen’ to begin a new era of glam rock throughout the 1970s. Experimental and non-conformist, they are managed by John Reid (Gillen), PA Paul Prenter (Leech) and lawyer Jim Beach (Hollander). But Freddie’s personal life spirals of control. With life-long friend Mary Austin (Boynton) trying to support him, Freddie descends into a whirlwind life of stardom and scandal during the 1980s, putting strains on himself and the band. Relationships are tested and friendships are rocked as Freddie and ‘Queen’ need to discover just who they are, what they want, and how they will get it before they fall apart forever…
Many roads in pop culture lead back to the band Queen one way or another. From stadium anthems such as ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ to movie soundtracks such as ‘Flash Gordon’ and ‘Highlander’, the gay and lesbian scene fronting Freddie Mercury as nothing but an inspiration and generations new and old discovering their music, making a 2hr 10min movie about such a band who dominated the music industry from 1972 to 1991 with a lasting legacy that only seems to get stronger was never going to be easy.
You also have to count the fact that the behind the scenes stories and scandals, as with any celebrity group or individual, are often more intriguing than a stage persona. Never a truer word said when you look at Freddie Mercury and Queen. The biopic that was plagued by development problems as far back as 2010 with casting conflicts, director changes and artistic disagreements, it has finally landed and tells the stories you know and some you may not between the formation of Queen in 1972 through to the Live Aid concert of 1985. 13 years packed into 2hrs 10mins – what do you pick out? Who do you focus on? What stories do you tell? What scandal do you highlight?
With director Bryan Singer completing nearly two-thirds of the film and replacement Dexter Fletcher coming in to finish the arc, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a love-letter to Queen and their legacy. They marketed the film as a foot-stomping celebration, and it is nothing but. If you come to this film expecting nothing but historical accuracy and every little fact that added to the 13 years we see on screen develop, you’ll be disappointed. This is not a film to pick apart and focus on the darker side of Freddie and Queen in their highs and lows of stardom. What casual fans don’t know won’t affect their understanding of the story. What hard-core fans know will not have a place in a, generally, family-friendly film and they should know why. There are enough hard-hitting and solemn moments in this film highlighting important factors without it being gratuitous, uncomfortable or even disrespectful.
It’s painfully obvious there is so much material omitted here because Freddie Mercury lived a scandalous, media-hounded life in his prime. From booze and drug-fuelled parties, his private path on homosexuality, intricate creativity and a decadent lifestyle, he was certainly no saint, but he most certainly wasn’t a sinner. He cared for those close to him, he wanted to do nothing but love and be loved in return. So naturally this Hollywood look at his life sugarcoats some things, pushes others to the side and bolsters the leading man persona front and centre; while it no means ignores things, it doesn’t spend much time going too deep into them. I personally found this perfectly acceptable. As a film made for both dedicated and casual Queen fans, and also cinema goers, the content is carefully selected to only tease the surface of what Freddie Mercury and Queen were about and what cracks formed in their relationships. It certainly helped me connect a few dots, and I’ve been a Queen fan for near 20 years. If people want more, they can scroll pages of Wikipedia or read many books and see documentaries. This is a film for all ages and fans, nothing more, in 2hrs. They want to go in expecting to see and hear the man and band they know from popular culture, and they’ll leave understanding just who they are.
Rami Malek can’t be praised enough as Freddie. From 1970 to 1985, he grows as Freddie from aspiring musician, creative genius and show-stopping performer. He evolves on screen and you’re hooked from the start in this journey. From the subtle movements of his lips on the prosthetic overbite (akin to the subtle movements of Heath Ledger and his lips in ‘The Dark Knight’) to the way he talks, looks, walks….he’s the peacock strutting across the globe enjoying what he does and how he does it. But he is fragile, and Malek doesn’t simply homage Mercury in flamboyant suits and semi-dubbed musical numbers. No, Malek embodies the real man struggling to both adapt and adjust in a very uncertain and scary world. His journey is nothing short of enjoyable, inspiring and moving. Kudos to the ones following in Malek’s shadow but by all means get their moments to shine as the friends and bandmates who guided and directed their own path. Hardy, Lee and Mazzello nail their representations perfectly. From body language to the way they speak to their relationships forged, each young actor captures the little things, as Malek does, that make them unique. From playing their instruments in more than convincing ways to being more than just poster boys for rock, the four gel perfectly and make you feel all sorts for them. With support from Tom Hollander who you can’t help but admire as Jim Beach, Allen Leech as the deceptive and selfish Paul Prenter and Mike Myers as EMI exec Ray Foster who deems ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as a song that “kids can’t rock out to in their cars”, this is a top-notch cast who embody their roles and tick all the right boxes as the figures who made Queen what they were, for good or bad reasons. Lucy Boynton is Mary Austin, the long-term friend and one-time lover of Freddie who is his one true love, his rock and support. She gives just as much as Malek in crafting a journey of someone affected by the environment and people surrounding them, and she has a wonderful air to her that is easy to see why Freddie gravitated to her and kept her close for the rest of his life. A beautiful, and important, performance.
Charting 15 years of the band’s life and career was never going to please everyone. The stories we hear from tabloids and reports won’t all be featured in a family friendly film that has been, to be fair, made in a way to honour and help preserve a man’s legacy rather than pull it apart. It introduces enough demons for us to face without shaming Freddie or painting Queen in a negative like apart from the cracks that show, the arguments that fester and the clash of morals. There are some chronological discrepancies too, but nothing that deters from the overall story (‘We Will Rock You’ seemingly written in the 1980s when it was actually 1976 for instance). But this serves to only progress the story without bloating the narrative. There was little I felt was untouched looking at the film as a general film fan and trying to imagine being one who knows a little about Queen and their legacy but not much about Freddie as a man. This offers an insight into the hidden life they lived without feeling the need to sit us down for nine hours and tell us every little fault, little failure, little fantastic fact. It’s bitesize, but it’s more than enough to help people understand these British legends.
Standing tall (maybe even taller) than the story and cast is the soundtrack and musical numbers. Concerts from Rio, America and England are all recreated in scarily authentic fashion, with no expense spared to front the accurate costumes, movements and stage set-up. It’s glam and it’s toe-tapping and it’s feel good. Every beat of the drum and slap of the bass will stir emotions in your body and you’ll find it hard not to be moved by their music and seeing them on stage.
As for the 1985 Live Aid finale? Well, thankfully it’s not just a cut-and-paste 20 minute copy of the set; it’s a trimmed down version that focuses not just on the performers but the audiences and managers who are as moved as the music as we are. It adds a whole new depth to the performance when you see the hurdles overcome to get there, and it’s a rousing, fist-pumping and perfectly executed rendition of one of THE greatest live rock performances in history. And Rami Malek goes above and beyond to be utterly flawless in a portrayal that looks as effortless to him as breathing.
You get the idea by now. I totally love and respect Queen as a band and Freddie Mercury as a man. In turn, I have fallen in love with this film. Sure, in a selfish world I would have loved a longer runtime. I would have loved to explore more years, more stories, more relationships such as his romance with Jim Hutton, but we have a restricted timeline and I KNOW that the six years following Live Aid were even more defining and emotional for the band; I just wish we could have a follow-up film exploring that and beyond because they certainly did this interpretation justice. I didn’t come to watch this film for a demonic ride through the scandals of Freddie Mercury and the darker side of Queen – the hostility of Roger or the temper of Brian – no, I came to celebrate the four performers who changed the music industry for the better. I was introduced to stories and events I wasn’t aware of, but certainly, have made an impact on me going forward and just stoked my desire to read more about Freddie and his career in depth.
It’s a love letter to Freddie f****ng Mercury and Queen. It’s a celebration of their music, their creativity and their legacy on British music.