I first became aware of Queen when I fell in love with the 1986 movie Highlander. It has always been one of my favorites, and a lot of that is because of the music. That carried over into the Highlander TV show.
There have been a lot of rumors of a Queen or Freddie Mercury biopic for many years. Supposedly Sacha Baron Cohen was close to portraying Freddie Mercury, but left the project after clashing with the remaining members of the band about how certain aspects of his life should be depicted. Cohen wanted to delve deep into Freddie’s sexual ambiguity, and the band wanted to focus on the music. Ben Whishaw was also mentioned as a possibility, but finally Rami Malek took on the project, and Bryan Singer began the direction (he did not finish), and the movie approached the finish line.
Bohemian Rhapsody follows the story of Queen as they form in 1970 when Farrokh Bulsara joins the former members of Smile, Brian May and Roger Taylor to form a new group. Together, they pick up bassist John Deacon, and start touring as Queen. Forrokh changes his name to Freddie Mercury, and the band begins to pick up steam as tour and record, gaining popularity through their energetic live performances. They create a lot of different sounds, making a point to try everything. Eventually, Freddie develops some standard ‘front-man’ syndrome symptoms and they have a falling out. Freddie gets caught up in his solo career, drugs and alcohol and a shady business manager. Eventually, Bob Geldof wants Queen to come perform at Live Aid in 1985, Freddie gets a visit from his best friend Mary, and realizes it’s time to turn everything around. He reconciles with the band, looks up his love Jim Hutton, comes out to and reconciles with his family – all just in time to perform an incredible set at Live Aid.
Now, if you are a fan of Queen, there is no new information in this movie. I did not have a problem with that, honestly, I was mostly there for the music. Yes, it is definitely a bio-pic and not a documentary. Certain timeline things are shifted around to provide for the most cinematic drama possible. Freddie had already known the guys prior to joining the band, there was no meet-cute in the parking lot after one of their shows. While the band bickered, they never fell apart like in the movie – in fact, they had been touring together up to two months prior to Live Aid. And, apparently Freddie received his AIDS diagnosis years after Live Aid, not just before as the movie depicts. I don’t really have an issue with those shifts, it is a movie, after all, and they help the flow.
The movie is listed as being directed by Bryan Singer, however, he did not finish the movie. Apparently, he was late several times, sometimes not showing up at all. He stated it was family health issues, but when Rami Malek took exception to it, they had several fights. Dexter Fletcher came in to finish the picture. Even with that, the movie is perfectly serviceable with a decent cast.
- Rami Malek does an incredible job of portraying Freddie Mercury. The swagger and stage presence is incredible, but even more incredible is the self-doubt and loneliness once he was off-stage. Malek is impressive, and while the fake teeth are a little difficult to deal with at first, you get used to them.
- Lucy Boynton plays the love of Freddie’s life, Mary Austin. While Freddie was far from straight, he genuinely loved Mary, and she stayed his close friend and confidant until the end of his life - apparently she is the only one who knows the location of his ashes.. Boynton does a good job of being enthralled, then supportive, then frustrated, and finally accepting.
- Gwilym Lee plays Dr. Brian May, (he does have his doctorate in astrophysics), the flip side to Freddie’s coin. I loved his portrayal as mostly on board with Freddie’s crazy, sometimes perplexed, but mostly grateful.
- Ben Hardy plays drummer Roger Taylor. He is also wonderful as another member sometimes perplexed by Freddie.
- Joseph Mazzello (yes, the kid from the original Jurassic Park) plays bassist John Deacon. As with the other band members, he doesn’t get as much to do, but I really enjoyed the scene where he first plays the bassline to Another One Bites The Dust.
- Aidan Gillen shows up as John Reid, the band’s manager for a very long time. He does what he can to ensure their success until Freddie fires him.
- Allen Leech plays Paul Prenter, Freddie’s personal manager. The movie portrays him as a man who fell in love with Freddie early on, and then resorted to various levels of villainy to keep him to himself.
- Tom Hollander plays Jim Beach, the band’s lawyer who steps in after Reid is fired.
- Mike Myers has a lovely cameo as a fictionalized record executive. He’s there to tell you that kids will never be able to bang their head while listening to Bohemian Rhapsody in their car. Oh, the irony.
Some of the criticism of the movie is that it is a very ‘sanitized’ version of the story. Yes, Freddie’s rampant sexual history is touched on, but not deeply. The movie hints that he was into drugs, but that is never really shown. Freddie died in 1991 of AIDS-related complications, and was the first major celebrity to die of the disease. He kept his diagnosis secret for years, in fact only admitting publically the day before he died. He never wanted to be ‘poster-child’ for the disease, he just wanted to keep making music. I know the remaining members of the band are very careful to preserve Freddie’s legacy, and make it more about the music than the various levels of debauchery that were present. I did not have a problem with that, and did not mind this PG13 version of the story - also, I personally enjoyed the amount of attention paid to Freddie's cats. Framing it around the performance at Live Aid was a good choice, and makes sense in the context of the story.
If you like Queen, check it out. If you know nothing about Queen, know that this is a movie, not a documentary, but it is definitely enjoyable.
7 out of 10 – The music is fantastic. Also – keep an eye out for Adam Lambert’s cameo in the front as the flirty truck driver.
Curious how well Malek did? Check it out -