Bohemian Rhapsody Review
Are you a Queen fan? Of course you are; who isn’t? They haven’t released anything of real note since Mercury died in 1991 and yet the film charting their career and the life of their enigmatic front-man is the UK number 1. Despite some scathing reviews, it’s proving hugely popular. I’m not going to tell you those critics are wrong - some of them might be - the film is flawed. It’s a bio-pic and lacks the ambition to try and offset the inherent problem that all such films have: the wider the scope, the more wobbly a narrative. You will, I'm sure, enjoy it and without a shred of hyperbole I can tell you, the Live Aid sequence will blow you away. If you take nothing else from the film, the last ten minutes are a tour de force. The joy etched on Mercury’s face as he takes full control of the stage, the crowd and even a camera-man is a glorious indulgence that the film revels in.
Nearly 50 years of history to relate, a troubled production and a legacy to protect, it does play it safe and the result whizzes by too fast. Like the band's music though, even when at its most frivolous, the talent is undeniable. The period is captured exactly, the music editing extraordinary (with vocals a mix of Mercury, Rami Malek and Marc Martel) and the cast are astonishingly good, especially squint-and-you’ll-think-it’s-Brian played by Gwilym Lee. The guys have great chemistry and everything you’ve heard about Malek is true; he could have done with being a bit bigger, but he perfectly captures both the vulnerable Freddie and his ferocious rock-god alter-ego.
Malek's performance is heart-breaking at the point where those lines merge, where Freddie struggles to satisfy his excesses while still just looking for Somebody To Love. Sorry. An obvious pun, but at least it’s one the film doesn’t use. Commendable for a film some would have you believe is clichéd; actually, they are almost right there too, but it isn’t Queen’s fault that their history does lend itself to classic archetypes. It’s because of bands like Queen that events can become clichéd at all.
As a discerning Queen fan, it is Mercury’s story where you have to cut it some slack. The Live Aid sequence is worth it. Retooling the best performance by any band ever as a slightly different redemption and closing the film there makes sense, narratively speaking, but at the same time, you can’t make a film about Freddie Mercury and not mention AIDS. So, real life becomes fantasy and his diagnosis is a couple of years too early in Bo-Rhap the movie. There are other time-crossing tweaks; the songwriting concepts are fantastic scenes, but again, maybe a bit out of order. Bohemian Rhapsody could have been made by Eric Morecambe. All the right notes, not necessarily in the right order, I’ll give you that, son. I’ll give you that.
A true story should be just that, but truth is a slippery concept in cinema and by bending a timeline here or there, Bohemian Rhapsody becomes reliable and honest, while still entertaining. I’m surprised by the toxic reaction even the trailer received and some commentators have wished that the film was a 15-certificate to show the ‘darker’ side of Freddie Mercury. Why? Cavorting promiscuity isn’t going to be any truer than what we do see.
Of course, Freddie was outrageous, lived excessively, and sadly his tragic fate rests with him, but I don’t need to see it played out to understand it and especially not Sacha Baron Cohen’s cartoon interpretation which would have unbalanced the film. I don’t need to see copious trays of cocaine or vats of vodka either. I already know it’s possible that happened, though it is more likely an urban legend. Either way, the film is wise enough to imply Mercury was capable of either doing it while still maintaining that the effect was unchanged: wilderness years and illness, redeemed thanks to people who genuinely loved him. Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin convinces as the love of Freddie’s life and I was pleased to see that Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) comes across so well as the one guy outside of his band-family who could tell the singer the truth.
The film isn’t explicit about anything. Maybe that’s the only real fault, but critics who accuse the film of being hollow are contradicting themselves. It skates through the performances and songwriting just as quickly as it does Freddie’s demons. Damning with faint praise? Perhaps. All I know is that the day after I saw Bohemian Rhapsody, I started playing Queen albums on loop again. It’s a kind of magic.