The life of Freddie Mercury was complicated and I think even now with so much of who he was will never really be known to anyone other than those closest to him. Taking us from the very beginning of Queen to their ground breaking Live Aid performance in 1985, Bohemian Rhapsody gives us the highlights, the best bits, of the life of a man who changed musical history forever. Shmaltzy in places, inaccurate in others, this films purpose is not to tell the true story of Freddie Mercury and his life but rather to celebrate him, his band and his accomplishments as an artist. While there are elements of loneliness and darkness shown to us in fleeting glimpses, a rip roaring, toe tapping musical number is right around the corner to bring you back.
Bohemian Rhapsody did well at the box office and on the awards circuit being nominated for 5 Academy Awards and winning 4 of them. An achievement sadly marred by the sexual allegations against the films director, Bryan Singer, that made headlines in early 2019. However, Rami Malek who played Freddie Mercury won the award of Best Actor that year which for someone so young and taking on such an enigmatic and loved person as Freddie Mercury is a tremendous achievement. No one could have done a better job and he worked hard to encapsulate the enigmatic nature of Mercury, he wore his false teeth for weeks prior to filming and spent time studying and analysing the way he moved, strutted and held himself on stage. Simply watching the real Live Aid performance from 1985 and the dramatized version in the film is evidence enough to see just how accurate his portrayal is, mimicking literally every single inflection of his character, voice and the way he moves. Its nothing short of impressive and well deserving of his Oscar win.
Rami Malek was the outstanding part of this film, everything else kind of falls by the wayside. The script is pretty mediocre and its really quite astonishing that this film won the Academy Award for Best Editing because again, it is textbook at best. It’s an enjoyable film and it leaves you with a smile on your face but the problem is that anyone who has any kind of background knowledge of Queen knows that there was so much darkness under the surface of it all that is barely addressed. Bohemian Rhapsody is enjoyable in the same way that Mamma Mia is enjoyable, the musical numbers are fantastic and well-choreographed and the story behind the songs is interesting but without Malek holding it all together it would feel like a messy scrap book of rock history. From a technical and professional stand point, this isn’t a very good film but in terms of audience satisfaction its up there with the best of them.
Queens Live Aid performance was ground breaking. It has gone down as the greatest 17 minutes in rock history. At this point in their careers Queen were becoming less popular and Freddie hard embarked on a short and disappointing solo career. Freddie felt that Queen were in a rut of touring, writing, touring and writing and he was fed up of it and they had all spent quite a lot of time apart. It wasn’t until Live Aid that they came back together again. The film starts and ends with this performance and while it is highly regarded by musicians and music fans alike, it had a different meaning entirely to Freddie himself. According to his lover Jim Hutton, he knocked back a vodka after coming off stage and was relieved it was over, he agreed to do it not to solve poverty but to be a part of something and to be considered on the same level as the likes of Led Zeppelin. It provides the book ends for the movie, much like Walk the Line with the Folsom Prison scene, but it feels so out of context to the rest of the film. The writing of Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t lead to this moment, they were asked to do it and they said yes and it doesn’t get anymore romantic than that. Its not until afterwards that it became the phenomenon that it is.
A Queen biopic is never going to satisfy the Queen fans of which there are millions. There is a story to be told here and very intimate, personal and heartbreaking story at that. Scenes between Freddie Mercury and his closest friend Mary Austin are at times so gut wrenchingly sad, when we see him lonely and vulnerable and he needs Mary. Mary who was by his side for so much of his life and including the very moment of his death is much a part of who is as Jim Hutton, Queen and the rest of the band members. Its perhaps only she that really knows who he was. Lucy Boynton who portrays Mary Austin does such a beautiful job but it certainly feels like an after thought to everything else about Queen. Huge scenes are given to much less meaningful moments. But, that’s not what this film is, so what is it? That seems to be the most puzzling question. It says its celebrating Queen and the life of Freddie Mercury but it doesn’t really go into much detail about anything, it very much stays on the surface for fear of dragging you under. There is a lot of truth missing and that story, the real, honest and truthful story is the one that should be winning Oscars. Not this glossy, Hollywood version which misses out the nasty bits. The story to be told here has been ignored, much like Freddie ignored his own health problems for years, its been avoided at all costs. There is barely a mention of Freddie having AIDS or struggling with that because the film ends after the Live Aid concert when there were six more years of Queen and Freddie Mercury after that up until his death in 1991. Its just odd to not include so much simply because of the health problems Freddie faced during this time, not that it seem to have any effect whatsoever on his willingness to tour, record and perform for his fans, something that is undoubtedly worth celebrating. No one is asking for Dallas Buyers Club realness here, just a recognition of what was really going on.
Bohemian Rhapsody is hugely enjoyable for all and despite being a bit too glossy for some of the die hard Queen fans, the story is interesting and musical numbers are wonderfully put together. All of this leads to the climactic Live Aid performance which is as entertaining as it was back in 1985. Still not convinced? Check out the trailer below.
Bohemian Rhapsody premieres on HBO on Saturday 6th July at 8pm.
As an HBO Watch writer since 2013, I have covered a wide variety of shows from Eastbound and Down to Game of Thrones. I am also a huge Stanley Kubrick enthusiast having written my undergraduate thesis on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Outside of the world of film and TV I am an avid baker and teach 16-18 year olds how to use cameras.