Like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones before them, British rock group Queen has already left an indelible mark on the lives of many. Hoping to cement that legacy further is a new feature-length musical centring on the band’s enigmatic front-man, an adored figure whose life was shrouded in mystery, and remains that way by movie’s end.
The man who would become Freddie Mercury was first known as Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek), the child of immigrants and a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport. What little free time he has is spent at a nearby pub watching Smile, a three-piece band that includes guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). One evening, May and Taylor find themselves without a singer; young Freddie offers himself as a replacement, using the opportunity to demonstrate his impressive vocal range.
With Freddie now lead vocalist, Brian and Roger hire a bassist, John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) and rename their band Queen, ready to garner success. That goal proves quite difficult to achieve, requiring the group to experiment with their music and produce a distinctive sound. Their unconventional approach sees Queen rewarded with a rise in fame, giving them the confidence to record and release their boldest effort yet: a concept album called “A Night at The Opera”.
Bohemian Rhapsody is what one could describe as an authorised biography in motion-picture format. Queen’s real-life manager, Jim Beach – who is portrayed in the film by Tom Hollander – serves as a producer, while Brian May and Roger Taylor are credited as executive producers, suggesting all three men have a fair degree of creative control. Resultingly, their effort is less a no-holds-barred examination of their fame and more a sugar-coating of their lives.
Queen’s tale is an intriguing one, but it lacks the drama and conflict necessary for a compelling narrative. All of the musicians, Freddie aside, lead bland, unassuming lives – they get married, have children, refrain from swearing, aren’t alcoholics and don’t consume narcotics. This leaves Mercury to be the primary committer of sins, and the one to fracture the band, which is rather unfair to him and his legacy, particularly because no explanation is given for his erratic behaviour.
The screenplay of Bohemian Rhapsody is only too keen to explore the history of Queen and its artistic process, but refuses to offer any insight into its characters. Instead of being an intricate portrait of a complicated man, or an examination of what drives him, the film merely observes the events of Freddie Mercury’s life, barely hinting at the underlying complexity or darkness that many people saw in him. More insulting still is the film’s indelicate treatment of his sexuality, portraying Mercury as something of a pervert.
For those with only a casual interest in Queen and its story, Bohemian Rhapsody makes for an interesting experience. Many of the facts it presents, such as Mercury’s migrant background, will come as a surprise to most viewers; the band’s methods of creating and recording music are also fascinating, potentially leading one to further appreciate their discography. There’s even a faithful recreation of their much-lauded Live Aid performance, by far the best part of the movie.
Also worthy of admiration are a pair of delightful actors, the first of which is, surprisingly, Mike Myers. In Bohemian Rhapsody, the comedic chameleon dons facial hair, sunglasses and a Liverpudlian accent to play Ray Fisher, an EMI executive who represents the sceptics that Queen crossed on their way to stardom. The second actor of note is the lead, Rami Malek, whose enthusiasm and gusto rivals that of Freddie Mercury himself – they’ve certainly found the perfect person to embody the singer.
Rather than reveal that which has been left untold, Bohemian Rhapsody only further adds to the mythos of Queen, offering fans nothing of detail. For everybody else, there’s at least some joy to be found in the music and the performances, hopefully allowing Queen’s fanbase to grow as a result.