In serving as a biopic of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody does a disservice by placing a bigger focus on the music than his sexuality.
For the reasons I’ll get into shortly, Bohemian Rhapsody is this year’s version of The Greatest Showman. The music is great–don’t get me wrong, the film features a killer soundtrack that you should absolutely own. Much in the same case as last year’s crowd-pleasing musical, the faults in the film come by way of Anthony McCarten’s screenplay. Just as with the other film, Bohemian Rhapsody has some major issues in telling the true story. Maybe this is because of Brian May and Roger Taylor wanting a close hold on Mercury’s legacy. After all, the singer practically ignores all questions relating to his sexuality during a press conference to promote an album.
We’re first introduced to Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) as a bagger at the airport. At this point in his life, he’s known as Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara. It’s only after he sees Smile in concert that his life changes. When he learns that their lead singer quits the band, he joins Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) in what would become Queen. John “Deacy” Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) joins as the bass player. It’s at the same concert where Mercury would be introduced to long-time partner Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton).
One thing leads to another and the band gets a record deal. John Reid (Aidan Gillen) becomes the band’s first manager. Reid’s assistant, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), would later become Mercury’s personal manager. A rift between Mercury and Reid would lead their law, Jim “Miami” Beach (Tom Hollander) to become their second manager. I don’t need to dive into the band’s history because that’s already been written on Wikipedia and elsewhere.
The film is bookended–rightly so–with the Live Aid performance. Even though Queen toured in the years following this performance, this was the perfect place to end the film. We get the full set and it may just be the best 20-25 minutes of the film. Queen stole the show and Mercury dominated to say the least.
While the band’s popularity is the large focus of the film, it’s hard to discuss Freddie Mercury without knowing what we know about his sexuality. There were the rumors in the tabloids during the band’s heyday. The film doesn’t ignore it per se. There’s a montage of clips where Freddie and personal manager Paul Prenter walking into gay clubs. Even though we see him clearly hitting on guys, there’s not much outside of the relationship with Paul and even Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker). This is it. Nothing to say of Freddie’s relationship with radio DJ Kenny Everett (Dickie Beau). There’s not even any sex scenes between them! I liken it to social media in that they’re only showing us what they want us to see.
The biggest worry obviously has come true. It really does a disservice to the singer. When Freddie receives his AIDS diagnosis, the moment is not as emotional as it could be. This is a serious disease that killed many people. It led to his passing at the age of 45 years old on November 24, 1991. Here it is, the film misses an opportunity to have a bigger focus on his battle with the disease. To make matters worse, Freddie was diagnosed two years AFTER the Live Aid performance and yet as they rehearse for the gig, he opens up about his battle with AIDS! If you’re going to tell the story, tell it the right way.
We do get some meta moments in the form of EMI Records’ Ray Foster (Mike Myers). This is because of the song prominently being featured in Wayne’s World. Foster is used to comical extent as the man who let Queen get away.
Stating the obvious but the fact that Bryan Singer still gets a directing credit after being fired from the film is disappointing to say the least. I understand the DGA has their rules bit it would be nice for Dexter Fletcher to have received a directing credit, too.
The only benefit of Bohemian Rhapsody is that Queen’s 1985 Live Aid set is finally getting a CD release. There’s not much else to love about the film, I’m afraid.
DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer (and Dexter Fletcher)
SCREENWRITER: Anthony McCarten
CAST: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech and Mike Myers