The 6-minute-long ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the UK’s third best selling single of all time. Bryan Singer’s eponymous motion picture is a similarly entertaining, colourful journey. Yet unlike Queen’s greatest hit, it is decidedly lacking in certain areas and falls short in capturing the essence of the bold and revolutionary artists that Queen truly were. While ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ triumphs in providing an electric account of Queen’s creative process and their resulting hits, it fails to delve fully into the intricacies of Freddie Mercury’s complex mind. That said, for those looking for two hours of dynamic entertainment and infectious music, this film is the right stop for you.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ opens by showing the origins of Queen, from their roots as college students playing in local pubs, to their determination to create an album financed by the sale of their van. The film then jumps quite abruptly to their signing with EMI records and the band’s subsequent success. A slight insight is given into Mercury’s strained relationship with his father and his desire to distance himself from his Parsi roots, a desire that manifests in him legally changing his name from Farrokh Bulsara to Freddie Mercury. Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin dominates much of the start of the film. Played by Lucy Boynton, we watch as Mary learns of Mercury’s sexuality after a six-year relationship. This is one of the only relationships that the film does justice to and we watch as Mary remains a part of Mercury’s story and supports him in the pivotal moments of his life.
The strongest parts of the film centre on the creation of music. One of my favourite scenes takes place while the band is concocting the aforementioned classic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Shot in a studio in an isolated farmhouse, this scene depicts the creative process behind one of rock’s most beloved songs. It is an entertaining and fabulous insight into how the four members collaborated their individual talents to create music.
The film then takes a darker turn as a picture of Mercury’s drug and alcohol infused lifestyle emerges. We are introduced to the token villain of the movie, Paul Prenter, whose toxic relationship with Mercury separates him from his band members. However, this turbulent period in Mercury’s life is reduced to petty squabbles with his bandmates and a brief attempt at a solo career. According to industry reports, the surviving members of the band agreed to the movie as a ‘celebration’ of Queen that wouldn’t focus on Mercury’s drug use or death. Unfortunately, it appears that in their attempt to create a pg-13 movie, the film-makers glossed over Mercury’s sexuality and the more controversial and flamboyant parts of his life. It does not delve into what made this troubled and larger than life genius tick, or how his relationships shaped his life. While his connection with Mary is a key component of the film, his 7-year relationship with Jim Hutton is introduced briefly towards the end and receives little screen time. Any obstacles are overcome easily- Mercury reconnects with his band members just in time for Live Aid and the manipulative Prenter is replaced by kind and solid Jim.
Undoubtedly, the film’s greatest asset is Rami Malek. He immediately captivates the audience with his magnetic and effervescent performance as Mercury. Juggling Mercury’s often insecure and shy off-stage personality with his eccentric on-stage character, Malek succeeds in honouring one of the greatest entertainers of all time. He effortlessly recreates Mercury’s mannerisms and quirks, culminating in a 15-minute identical performance of Mercury’s famous Live Aid opening. While ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ brings us on a journey, albeit a sedated one, of Mercury’s life, the other members of Queen are depicted as mere bystanders on the road. We are provided with the perfunctory background information; what their college degrees are and what instruments they play. Before long they begin arriving in the studio with wives and children in tow. This is the extent of the insight into the three other members of Queen’s lives. In this film, they simply serve as a foil for Mercury’s trajectory into the dark world of drugs, alcohol and self-hate.
The soundtrack of the film is nearly perfect. A compilation of Queen’s greatest hits, it is impossible to resist the infectious nature of classics such as ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘I Want to Break Free’. Some of the best moments in the movie are when we see the connection between Queen and their captivated audience. The emotion of ‘Love of My Life’ and the irresistible ‘Radio Ga Ga’, penetrate the theatre and display the ability of Queen’s music to appeal to any crowd. Yet the film does not explore any of the lesser known Queen songs. Rami Malek himself said in an interview with BBC, that two of his favourite Queen songs are ‘Lily of the Valley’ (Sheer Heart Attack in 1974) and ‘You Take My Breath Away’ (A Day at the Races in 1976) — both quieter, more contemplative tracks. ‘Trust me, I pushed for those songs to be in the movie, because they informed so much of Freddie to me,’ Malek said. ‘But no one’s singing those ones at karaoke.’ The film’s resistance to exploring some of the deeper Queen songs is another missed opportunity to display to the world the more complex and troubled Freddie Mercury.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is flawed. It doesn’t do justice to any of the Queen members, especially the frontman Mercury, to whom most of the film is dedicated. Glossing over the more complicated aspects of his life, we are provided with a conventional rise to stardom followed by the inevitable downfall biopic. The saving grace of the movie is the final scene. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ finishes with a remake of the iconic 1985 Live Aid concert, where Mercury controlled the audience with his electric performance. Over 30 years later Queen’s magic hasn’t died, as a theatre full of people mouth the words to ‘We Are the Champions’ and sit transfixed by the genius of one of rock’s most iconic bands.
By Deirbhile O’Neill – Film Writer