By Glenn Alderson
The legacy of Queen and Freddie Mercury is one that’s been relatively undocumented on the silver screen up until now. It seems strange that it’s taken so long, given the band’s impressive footprint and history of success but the proper 2018 biopic that we now know as Bohemian Rhapsody has been a long time in the making for many reasons.
From its initial announcement in 2010 (remember when Sacha Baron Cohen was announced to be playing the part of Mercury?) to now, the film has seen so many line-up changes you’d think 20th Century Fox was actually a band trying to find their place on the rocky road to success. With the initial firing of director Bryan Singer and rumors that even Daniel Radcliffe would be taking the lead at one point; all of the unprecedented rumors and casting changes only added to the excitement. All the drama aside, the final lineup starring an impressive Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) as Mercury finds a way to channel a greatest hits celebration while touching on the life and times of the band who collectively helped the enigmatic frontman shine.
At times the film’s restrained portrayal of Mercury’s sexuality does seem unnervingly conservative and even homophobic at times, with the only real “villain” painted in their story being his queer manager, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). The amount of pandering done to make the film accessible to a conservative audience is palpable yet Bohemian Rhapsody still manages to retain heart and doesn’t get too lost in the “in between moments” as Mercury refers to them at one point in the film.
Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara) was as enigmatic as he was misunderstood and the story this biopic tells is as much of a tragedy as it is a heroic rock ‘n’ roll tale of emotional fury. While it does take on the darker dramatic elements with its portrayal of Mercury’s battle with HIV, for the most part the film sticks to a cookie cutter formula of a rah-rah biopic and cuts straight to the goods, which is fine since the actual lives of Queen outside of Queen really weren’t all that exciting.
Bohemian Rhapsody starts and ends with the band’s most iconic performance of their career, 1985 Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, arguably the biggest concert in rock ‘n’ roll history. Queen took the stage and changed music with their 20-minute set so it’s exciting to see the fan-fare recreated so fantastically.
While the band members (Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon) are properly represented and given the respect they deserve, the crowning moments of the film are ultimately focused on Mercury, which really wouldn’t have shined nearly as bright without the talent of Malik’s goofy yet accurate portrayal.
The brightest moments of the film shine in the performances and they are shot exceptionally well. And with the band’s Live Aid performance bookending the movie, it makes the final scene play out like the ultimate encore. Recreating the magic of such a monumental event makes the movie worth watching, even if your knowledge of Queen only extends to Wayne’s World or foot-stomping and hand-clapping along to “We Will Rock You” at hockey games. In the end, Bohemian Rhapsody is a fun rock ‘n’ roll drama complete with all the hits and even a surprising and totally unexpected cameo from Mike Myers (look closely!). It’s probably best that Sacha Baron Cohen left things be in Queen-land as well so he could move on to trolling conservative America while Malik stood under the bright spotlight to pay homage to one of the greatest performers and vocal artists who ever lived.