Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten (story by), Peter Morgan (story by)
Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aiden Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McClusker. Directed by Bryan Singer (and Dexter Fletcher). (2018/135 min).
As a die-hard Queen fan during the height of their popularity, I can confirm many of Bohemian Rhapsody’s historical inaccuracies regarding their career trajectory. The timeline of certain events has been changed, while others depicted in the film didn’t actually happen.
I can also attest that Freddie Mercury’s sexuality was never an issue with fans back then. We always suspected he was gay. We just never cared because his over-the-top flamboyancy perfectly enhanced the band’s bombastic, genre-bending approach to music. Even after media wagons began to circle around Mercury’s private life, none of their so-called revelations seemed particularly scandalous because most of us suspected as much all along. When Mercury publicly disclosed he had AIDS (the day before he died), we were extremely saddened, though not all that surprised.
So no, Queen was not an overnight success, not everything they touched turned to gold and Freddie was not diagnosed with AIDS prior to Live Aid. And if the film omits most of the more sordid details of Mercury’s life, so what? It is obvious from the first frame that Bohemian Rhapsody was put together by people who love the band – and its music – as much as everyone else. Accusations of the film glossing-over the truth are moot points. This is not-so-much a biography as it is a big, sparkling thank you letter to Queen and their legions of fans, both old and new.
As such, Bohemian Rhapsody is fabulous fun, much like Queen’s music. Their humble beginnings are superficially outlined – and greatly condensed – in order to present the Queen we know & love as much as possible. The concert sequences are depicted in all their glamorous glory, as are the band’s numerous numerous musical milestones. With a soundtrack that’s wall-to-wall with Queen’s best-known songs, the film plays very much like a greatest hits album. Historically, some of them appear out of order. “Fat Bottomed Girls,” for example, was not one of their early hits. Within the context of the narrative, however, the song’s timing is perfect. As it appears in the story, “Who Wants to Live Forever” achieves a level poignancy never reached in the movie it was originally written for (Highlander).
Much has already been said about Rami Malek’s amazing performance as Freddie Mercury. It is indeed phenomenal, but the actors playing the rest of the band are just as convincing (and criminally overlooked). While they may not be spitting images of their real-life counterparts (though Joe Mazzello as John Deacon comes damn close), they completely embody Queen’s on-stage moves and mannerisms.
Everything culminates with the band’s now-legendary performance at Live Aid. It wasn’t really a “reunion” as the film suggests (Queen never actually broke up), but by rearranging and altering certain events for dramatic impact, this scene is easily Bohemian Rhapsody’s emotional high point. Watching the band return to glory before a 100,000 fans (and a billion TV viewers) is enough to cause goosebumps.
Ultimately, we don’t learn much more about Mercury than we did going in (though he appeared to have a lot of cats). The film is narratively disjointed and its historical accuracy is questionable. But as an affectionate tribute to a band we’ll still be listening to 100 years from now, Bohemian Rhapsody captures Queen the way we’d like to remember them: a great band with one helluva charismatic frontman.