Does Bohemian Rhapsody do justice to Queen and Freddie Mercury?
Queen with larger-than-life front man Freddie Mercury are one of rock’s most iconic bands, responsible for countless chart hits and a memorable live show. But, does the new bio-pic Bohemian Rhapsody capture the spirit of this groundbreaking group? Arts editor Andrew Clarke gets a front row seat to find out
Bohemian Rhapsody; dir: Bryan Singer; starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Max Bennett Cert: 12A (2018)
One of the biggest hurdles for any bio-pic that deals with the life of Freddie Mercury or the career of Queen is the fact that they have been so good at documenting their turbulent history that not only do you not have anything new to add but, apart from a few dramatized personal moments, you have to compete with top quality real-life footage in your re-enactments.
The question arises several times watching Bohemian Rhapsody, particularly watching the shot-for-shot re-staging of their Live Aid performance, why am I watching what is essentially a tribute band when I could be watching the real thing?
If we put these doubts to one side, then I have to say that Bryan Singer (and replacement director Dexter Fletcher) have come up with a movie that does capture the spirit of the band and the performances of the main cast Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Joseph Mazzello (John Deacon), with Lucy Boynton as Mercury’s long-term live-in girlfriend Mary Austin, are superb.
In fact it is the relatively new material, the little-known (by non-fans) story of the life-long relationship between Freddie and Mary, which proves the most interesting. For those who don’t know Mary was the main beneficiary of Freddie’s will.
They set up home together in the early 1970s and after Freddie came out (touchingly re-created as a private return from tour moment – “Mary, I think I’m bi-sexual”, “No Freddie, you’re gay”) she only moved next door. A quick scout round the internet can find pictures proving that she was a constant in Freddie’s life until the end.
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For someone who was at Queen’s Kind of Magic Wembley show in 1986 I can confirm that the re-creation of Queen’s live shows has been brilliantly done, even replicating Queen’s distinctive, movable lighting rig.
The shortening hair (except Brian’s), the changing costumes, the changing tour logo on Roger’s bass drum, charts the years going by. Singer and the sound crew do an exceptional job at blending Rami Malek with Freddie Mercury’s singing voice to recreate some of the most iconic songs in rock history – they even manage to revisit the relatively obscure Smile (their pre-Queen band) song Do’in All Right.
So, given this attention to detail, it is extremely frustrating to then be confronted with the fact they play fast and loose with easily checkable elements of Queen history. Silly things which could easily be changed or swapped around are left in to annoy fans.
For example, during an early 74/75 tour of the US with Mott the Hoople Queen are shown performing Fat Bottomed Girls, famously a double A-side 1978 single, lyrically paired with the iconic Bicycle Race while We Rock You would appear to have been created in the moustachioed 1980s rather than 1977.
These are historical niggles which combine to gradually undermine the authenticity of the movie. Things get worse towards the end of the film when screenwriter Anthony McCarten decides to compress time for dramatic effect.
The end of the movie is centred around their attention-grabbing, shock and awe performance at Live Aid, which is fair enough. However, history is entirely re-written to make the day even more dramatic than it was.
During rehearsals for their performance, Freddie is diagnosed with AIDS (in real-life that was three years later), when he later apologises to his band mates for a poor performance Brian tells him not to worry as they haven’t played together for years (whereas they had really just come off a world tour for The Works) and then on the day of the show Freddie is seen hunting down his last significant partner Jim Hutton, taking him to meet him his parents before giving the world an object lesson in showmanship.
This unbelievable finale takes the shine off what is otherwise a workman-like bio-pic. It’s a good looking movie with some terrific performances but towards the end you can almost hear the facts singing: “I Want To Break Free!”.
Bohemian Rhapsody is now on general release and was viewed in 4DX at Cineworld, Ipswich.