Representing one of the 20th century’s biggest musical icons on the silver screen was always going to be a major challenge for filmmakers. So, when Bohemian Rhapsody – the biopic of Queen’s frontman Freddie Mercury – was first announced, there was a high expectation for it to fall flat.
Following from the time when Queen was formed in the 1970s, to their triumphant and iconic returning performance at Live Aid in 1985, Bohemian Rhapsody follows Freddie Mercury’s tumultuous rise and fall in the media spotlight.
The film was first announced back in 2010 with Sacha Baron Cohen reportedly playing Mercury. However, it took the film several years to get back on track and in 2016 lesser-known Rami Malek (known for his leading role in the US TV series Mr. Robot) was announced in the titular role. However, when Malek’s casting was first revealed, there was backlash amongst Queen fans who considered him too short and just too different for the part of the band’s iconic lead singer. But Malek more than proved his acting chops by fully transforming himself into the flamboyant force of nature that Freddie Mercury was – teeth and all.
In fact, the casting of the whole band was a masterstroke. By the end of the film, viewers were so taken in by their authenticity that I almost began to think that I was watching the real Queen in their younger days, and not Gwilym Kay (Brain May), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor) and Joe Mazzello (John Deacon).
Fortunately, there was no question of trying to have someone else singing the extensive Queen soundtrack on this film, with a number of fan favourites such as Somebody To Love, Killer Queen and (of course) the 6-minute rule-breaker Bohemian Rhapsody, all showcased on the film’s main soundtrack.
Anyone who is concerned that the film is an extended Queen music video should be reassured that the movie is not exclusively about music. It’s true that the depiction of Live Aid in 1985 is a stunning highlight of the movie – teased at the start and then played out at the film’s end with an almighty crescendo – however, it is the Mercury’s underlying personal journey that truly tugs at the heartstrings of the film. Another great aspect of the story is the relationships between the band members. They are like a family, with all that implies – a mix of love, arguments, protectiveness and jealousy, but underpinned by loyalty and respect.
Critics have complained that the film presents a rather sanitised version of Freddie’s life, and whilst this is undoubtedly true – particularly in relation to Freddie’s sexuality, the period of his life spent with Paul Prenter which caused a great rift in the band, and his ambiguous relationship with his family – Bohemian Rhapsody does not set out to present itself as a hard-hitting documentary. Instead, the film is a showcase of pure entertainment. With an engaging and emotional representation of the key events in the life of a much-loved band, the film is also a chance to bring the iconic story (and music) of Queen to a new generation of fans.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a successful movie on all fronts and has made significant profits (over $800 million to date on a budget of only $50 million), whilst also winning an impressive number of awards. I would highly recommend seeing it, but I have to question if it is REALLY deserving of all the awards that have been showered on it in recent months.
Malek has so far won Best Actor in both the SAGs and the Golden Globes and is nominated for the same award at the forthcoming Oscars. But does his sensitive mimicry really outstrip some of the year’s other dramatic performances? It’s interesting to note that there is a bit of a theme this year, with fellow Oscar nominees Christian Bale and Viggo Mortensen also playing ‘real life’ characters, and then Bradley Cooper playing a (fictional) rock star. Personally – although good – I would place Malek’s performance behind all three of them. And, as for the film itself, I think that its triumph as Best Film (Drama) at the Golden Globes was surprising, but can it really prevail over classic movies like BlackKklansman, The Favourite and Vice at the Oscars? No disrespect to Bohemian Rhapsody, but I really hope not……