CAUTION: SOME SPOILERS
I don’t think I have ever been to the cinema to see a film where the entire audience stands and applauds at the end. In fact it’s been an age since I went to the cinema and didn’t look at my watch once. But this is exactly what happened when I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody last week. It was a fast roller coaster ride with loud hair, loud personalities and loud music a-plenty. Like Queen, it was tongue-in-cheek and at times comedic, occasionally the characters appeared like Freddie’s teeth, to be larger than life. But one thing it never did was disappoint. This was the best film I have seen in a long time.
Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of the genesis of the band Queen and culminates in their monumental performance at Live Aid in 1985. This film has been beset with problems and has taken over ten years to produce. The lead role of Freddie was originally cast with Sacha Baron Cohen until artistic differences with the remaining Queen members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, led them to recast Ben Whilshaw before finally settling on Rami Malek, known for playing Elliott in the American network show, Mr Robot. It was first directed by Bryan Singer, who was eventually sacked and replaced with the brilliant Dexter Fletcher. The remaining members of Queen didn’t want the film to be simply a Freddie Mercury biopic. However, Freddie Mercury was such a natural front man with a talent for showing off and performing, that it is impossible not to set him centre stage. One would have thought that with such problems the film would lack cohesion This is definitely not the case as the movie’s continuity is fast-paced and much like a fairground ride, there is no time to stop and pause or get off.
The film sets as it frame, Queen’s performance at Live Aid. It begins with Freddie Mercury nervously warming up as he waits to appear on one of the largest Worldwide stages ever. We then return to the seventies where we see the emergence of Freddie from Farrokh Bulsara, the poet and dreamer-son of Persian immigrants who is little more than a baggage handler at Heathrow, where he is the target of racism. There is the typical ‘my family doesn’t understand me’ scene where his father sees him as a disappointment before we see Freddie joining Brian May and Roger Taylor in the band Smile and forming a relationship with the beautiful, Biba-bedecked Mary Austin. Freddie appears to be the ambitious one, pushing the band to make an album and break free from their mediocre performances in pubs and students unions.
As the band finally settles on its identity of Queen, we see the group horrified by the idea of lip-synching on Top of The Pops with ‘Killer Queen’ and watch their slow rise to success with an early tour of America. Their fame begins to grow, and we see brief glimpses of Freddie’s battle with his sexuality. As much as he adores Mary, he feels strongly attracted to the thrill of casual homosexual encounters. He writes,’ Love of my Life’ for Mary and their relationship is far deeper than any definition. It transcends sex and shows that despite his fondness for picking up men, Freddie had an overwhelming need to love and be loved. When he becomes famous, Freddie still keeps Mary near to him.
One of the most dynamic sections of the film concerns the 1975 production of Queen’s third album, ‘A Night At the Opera’ and in particular the song Bohemian Rhapsody, which at the time was twice as long as most popular songs played on the radio. Now it is perceived as one of Queen’s greatest songs, but we see the opposition Queen faced from record companies and management because it was against the norm. Enter Mike Myers as Ray Foster with the very witty joke, ’It goes on forever, six bloody minutes!” To which Freddie retorts,’I pity your wife if you think six minutes is forever.’
Myers took this role as he is a huge Queen fan and the sing-a-long to Bohemian Rhapsody used in Wayne’s World, led to a resurgence of Queen’s hit in the nineties. However, of all the characters in the film, I found this the least convincing. Myers has a tendency towards ham acting and with his penchant for prosthetics, his character seemed out of place in a film with the right blend of seriousness and frivolity. I was relieved when Tom Hollander appeared as Queen’s lawyer and eventual manager, Jim Beach, to restore the gravitas of the film.
As Freddie’s fame ascends then so too does his recklessness and promiscuity. We see the Court of King Freddie, complete with arch villain and procurer Paul Prenter, and a cast of larger than life characters such as dwarves, transexuals and shady, self-serving characters. Freddie begins to believe his hype too much and his demise is inevitable as he descends into a wilderness of hedonism and endless partying in Munich. The message is simple but clear. In trying to discover who he is, Freddie has ostracised the only people that genuinely cared for him. We see Freddie return to Queen with his tail between his legs, desperate to atone for his sins by performing at Live Aid. In a plot twist that in reality occured much later, Freddie is diagnosed as being HIV Positive. Tragedy leads to revelation and as Freddie forces himself to live with this death sentence then his family learn to accept his homosexuality. We must never forget the impact of AIDS on the gay community. It took so many bright stars too soon from us and it is a legacy that must be taught to each new generation.
The film ends with Queen’s spell-binding performance at Live Aid. Rami Malek used a movement coach rather than a choreographer to make his performance more genuine.It is impossible not to believe that he is Freddie Mercury with his suggestive moves and commanding presence. It is this segment of the film that is most emotionally moving, for as an audience we see the deep tragedy of a life cut short far too soon for one of our greatest showmen. My only criticism of this section is that I would have liked there to have been a merging between the film and the original performance to underline the magnitude of Queen. Yet it was impossible not to willingly spend my disbelief in order to believe that I was witnessing Queen at Live Aid. I found myself singing along and moving with the rest of the audience and when it ended, there were huge tears of emotion running down my cheeks and for once it wasn’t caused by my hormones.
This really is a must-see move with a stellar cast, excellent direction and a fast-moving script. Brian May, played by Gwilym Lee is so real in his performance, that I wondered if the real Brian May with his love of astrophysics, hadn’t somehow managed to invent a time machine to go back in time to play himself. There have been criticisms that the film, with its certificate of 12, anaesthetised the extent of Freddie’s lifestyle. Yet I believe that this was handled appropriately. When we think of Freddie Mercury and Queen, it is their music and performance that is most admired. A 12 rating also enables the film to be more accessible to a new generation of Queen fans. ‘Who wants to live forever?’ Freddie once famously sang. Now because of this film, we get to see the real magic and legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen. The message of the film in the tagline ‘Fearless lives Forever’ has never been more apt.