25 October 2018 (released)
26 October 2018
If you’re not a Queen fan turn away now, because the British rock band’s era-defining tunes course through the veins of this movie - they are the life, soul, heart and backbone of this biopic.
Beginning just before the band gets together, we meet a young Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek) hauling baggage at Heathrow airport. The vision is a world away from the late, great Freddie Mercury – apart from his distinctive voice and even more distinctive buck teeth that is.
Dubbed a “Paki”, Freddie doesn’t fit in with his co-workers, and is also not entirely comfortable at home under his old fashioned, immigrant father’s roof. The effeminate twenty-something escapes regularly to see local bands play in smoky basement bars, including Smile, a group made up of his future bandmates Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). And when Smile’s frontman quits the group in search of fame and fortune, Freddie offers up his songwriting and singing services. They also recruit bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and just like that, music history is forever changed.
From here Bohemian Rhapsody follows Queen’s seemingly easy rise from playing in pubs to selling out stadiums, though their warm sense of family is slowly replaced with infighting as Freddie’s life becomes more debauched and over the top, while his bandmates opt for a much less rock and roll existence.
Malek is unbelievable, growing in the role to such a degree that by the finals scenes, a recreation of legendary 1985 concert Live Aid (which is totally worth the runtime going over the two-hour mark), you’re basically watching Freddie. He wholly and utterly nails his speaking voice and movements, though the vocals are left to the real Freddie. Hearing Mercury’s faultless voice over the 134 runtime is simply a joy. The lyrics “Sends shivers down my spine/ Body's aching all the time” from the title song sum up Malek’s perfect performance, and the scenes showing Queen as a collective, including shooting the gender bending video for I want to Break Free, are all highlights.
Lee is also excellently cast as curly-haired May, and perfectly pulls off his affable nature. Supporting cast members like Lucy Boynton as Freddie’s first love and lifelong friend Mary Austin, Aiden Gillen as Queen manager John Reid, Allen Leech as Freddie’s personal manager Paul Prenter, Tom Hollander as lawyer-turned-manager Jim Beach, and an almost unrecognisable Mike Myers as record label executive Ray Foster, all excel.
It’s not obvious where fired director Bryan Singer (who’s still credited as the filmmmaker) and stand-in Dexter Fletcher’s visions overlapped, meaning the finished article is a seamless piece of storytelling.
For some, the film doesn’t delve deep enough into Freddie’s extracurricular activities - his homosexuality, his drug use, his AIDS. Some aspects are definitely glossed over; there are a lack of sex scenes – in fact there are hardly any gay kissing scenes at all - but the fact he’s gay is not hidden from the audience, like it was by the man himself all those years ago. Freddie kept his private life private, and that, whether intentionally or not, comes across in the film. This narrative decision isn’t to everyone’s tastes though.
It should also be noted this is the story of Queen and not a straight up Freddie Mercury biopic. If Rami wants to revive the role for that, I’m sure there would be no complaints from cinemagoers.
However, artistic license has been taken on some of the major moments in the singer’s life, most notably his AIDS diagnosis. In the film he tells Brian, Roger and a teary-eyed John as they rehearse for Live Aid, but in reality he wasn’t diagnosed until 1987 according to his partner Jim Hutton.
After so much drama surrounding Bohemian Rhapsody, from its early days of inception with Sacha Baron Cohen attached to play Freddie, to outcries of straightwashing Mercury’s private life, the whole cast and crew manage to put all that behind them to produce a stomping, rousing and truly rocking piece of cinema.
It’s definitely a kind of magic.