Bryan Singer directs Bohemian Rhapsody, a tribute to Queen, the amorphous band that formed in the early 1970s and emerged as one of the most prolific, influential, and hottest bands of all time; but Queen wouldn’t have reached its heights without its lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody is about their story, and just as important, it’s a great way to hear some of the band’s greatest hits.
For the most part Bohemian Rhapsody is exciting and electrifying and will sweep viewers off their feet; but like any fantasy the screenplay by Anthony McCarten that is based on a story also by him in collaboration with Peter Morgan makes adjustments to events, glosses over important evolutionary benchmarks that shaped the band, and even adjusts Mercury’s romance story for a more linear and predictable narrative—and that’s unfortunate. At times it seems that the film can’t decide if it’s about the band or about Mercury; the latter is far more enticing. The cast is superb, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because each actor is outstanding in their respective role, and the group, like the band, has a chemistry that results in a convincing push and pull on the screen. The film stars Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin (Mercury's girlfriend and closest friend), Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Queen’s lead guitarist, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer, and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon, Queen’s bass guitarist. The curse of such a great cast is that it never allows Bohemian Rhapsody to delve completely in Mercury’s story, thus going back to the idea that the film’s focus is split. The film does a lot of things well and it really is a lot of fun to watch, it covers the time from when the band came together to its 1985 participation at Live Aid, at Wembley Stadium that was before the biggest-ever at that time television audience of 1.9 billion people. The filmmakers do an amazing job restaging the key performance, framing the time period, and making viewers feel like they were there.
The most interesting parts of Bohemian Rhapsody, besides the music, include reminders about Mercury’s origins, and what it was like to live and love at a time of AIDS, when it was ravishing the LGBTQ community across the western world. Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town in the British protectorate of Zanzibar. His family was Parsis from India who left for a better life and to be free to practice their Zoroastrian religion. The family later moved to England. Farrokh changed his name to Freddie early on when he was in boarding school, where he also started playing music and formed a group, he had stars in his eyes even then. Mercury was born with four supernumerary incisors that shaped his mouth into a versatile instrument with an extraordinary musical range and also made him unmistakably recognizable. His overall appeal relied on his sexiness, his bone structure, musical genius, and remarkable belief in himself. His mouth fit Mercury perfectly, the actor, doesn’t have the same bone structure or body build and the prosthetics used seem to be a little bit too much at the beginning but by the end he embodies “Freddie Mercury”, his poise and passion, and delivers moves to a T. As a solid actor, Malek is able to fill in gaps were the script falls short, he delivers introspective moments that no lines could.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a loving look at Freddie Mercury but it doesn’t convey his creative process or his depth on a personal level, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone ever could, he was simply too great to be fully captured by any one film or documentary; fortunately for generations new and old, Mercury can be known through all the notes he left behind and the world of music that he redefined.
In theaters now, consult local listings for times.