After many months of hype, speculation and changing directors, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody finally’ hit the big screen. The end product is very much a film of two parts, treating the legacy of Freddie Mercury with the respect such a musical icon deserves, perhaps choosing to shy away slightly from the more turbulent aspects of the singer’s life. As such, this is very much a story about Freddie Mercury as the lead singer of Queen; not the man behind the legend.
The film begins just as Mercury is about to take to the stage for what is perhaps the band’s most iconic performance – Live Aid, 1985. However, before we have a chance to see the band perform, the film cuts back to Mercury’s rebellious, teenage lifestyle. The next hour of the film is where it struggles, failing to choose if this is about Queen or its lead singer. From then on, a sequence of colourful montages charts the band’s rise from university gigs through to tours of the U.S.A. Despite being a brilliant reminder of the hits that we still blast out at student parties to this very day, you can’t help but feel that there should be more to the story, with the first section of the success story relatively devoid of any conflict or bumps in the road.
The other band members feel somewhat underdeveloped. Bass guitarist John Deacon in particular seems to simply join the rest of the band on stage at one of the gigs. For the first hour of the film, they very much feel like sheep following the herd. The only real conflict we see with executives is through the character of Ray Foster, an EMI executive unconvinced by the promise of what would go onto become one of the best-selling singles of all time in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ However, the band’s arrogance means they are not really bothered by this and it does not really feel like any kind of setback for them as moments later the classic hit is blasted on radio stations across the globe.
The film’s saving grace is found in the performances Rami Malek who holds the film together as Mercury, capturing both the charisma and, when the film allows him, the conflict of a man who certainly lived life on the edge. The dedication he put into the role is clear. As the film moves on through Mercury’s lesser known solo career, the performances of the rest of the band help to hold the film together, acting as the antithesis to Mercury’s destructive lifestyle. Whilst our own Queen hierarchy probably places Brian May as second in command, it is the performance of Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor which offers the most fascinating character outside of Mercury himself.
The climax of the film returns us to where it began with the Live Aid concert of 1985, but only this time, we see Queen in full force as they capture the crowds in Wembley stadium, around London and across the world. I imagine the majority of film-goers were not present at Bob Geldof’s famous concert for the famine in Africa, but the film goes as far as it can in making us feel like it, capturing the intensity with which the band performed and the grip they had on their millions of fans.
As Queen leave the stage, we see a few remaining facts about Mercury’s life concerning his relationship with Jim Hutton (another slightly underdeveloped section of the film) and his struggles with Aids which eventually resulted in his death in November 1991. These are presented alongside photographs of the man himself in documentary style, perhaps acting as a reminder of the film’s efforts to ask us to remember Mercury for what he did best – sing. Whether you agree with this portrayal or not is up to you.
Overall, this is an enjoyable enough biopic which, although it may lack the steel to remind us of the very real dangers of fame, an outstanding lead-performance and plenty of iconic hits leaves you merely adding more Queen songs to your Spotify rather than thinking about the man who sang them.
Verdict – 3/5