Tuesday, 30 October 2018


Queen frontman Freddie Mercury lives again a straightforward story of rock and roll redemption that will have you punching the air.

Bohemian Rhapsody
is a fairy tale film. There are three princes – guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor; a beautiful queen – Mr Freddie Mercury; a damsel in distress – Freddie’s lifelong muse, Mary Austin, and a black hearted villain – Iago-esque band fixer Paul Prenter. There’s even a wise wizard – financial-adviser-turned-manager, Jim “Miami” Beach.

Queen were a rock band like no one else. Between May’s inspiring electric power chords and Mercury’s high camp sensibility, they mined opera, jazz, disco, 1950s rock and roll, funk, Do-Wop and hard rock, among other genres, to produce a fizzing, gender-bending musical cocktail that was truly a one off. In some ways they were similar to David Bowie, that other popular music colossus of the 1970s. Queen attempted what would be now be called alternative rock only once, on 1980’s ‘Under Pressure’, fittingly enough with Bowie himself.

If I have a criticism of the film, it’s that there’s no sense of a changing musical landscape to measure Queen against. The closest the film gets is when Freddie says he’s “fed up with the anthems” and John Deacon starts playing the funky strut of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. “That’s not us! It’s disco!” objects Taylor. “It’s Queen,” Deacon replies. He’s right.

There’s also some liberty taken with the band’s timeline. They perform ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ on their 1975 American tour – it wasn’t committed to vinyl until 1978 – and are shown recording ‘We Will Rock You’ in 1980, when it was actually released four years before. Freddie’s moving admission to his band mates that he had AIDS happened the year after Live Aid, but in the context of the film it makes dramatic sense, as they hit the stage united behind a lead singer they know has limited time left.

This revision of the Queen chronology fits because, as the film shows, Freddie Mercury was very much the invented alter-ego of Farrokh Bulsara, son of a Zanzibar refugee, who earned his first wage packet as a baggage handler at Heathrow. In the well-worn showbiz theme of the path of excess not necessarily leading to the palace of wisdom, Mercury initially marginalises his blood family, drifts away from his soul-mate Mary because of his sexuality and becomes a stranger to himself, before subsequently finding redemption.

Throughout, May (Gwilym Lee) and Deacon (Jospeh Mazzello) are presented as what they were when Freddie first met them, amiable academics who had more than a knack for rock and roll. Mercury (Rami Malek) has a more fractious relationship with Taylor (Ben Hardy) – who studied to be a dentist, unlikely as that may seem – but acknowledges that he was essential to Queen’s collective chemistry, as he would always “push back” against Freddie’s more indulgent notions.

There’s a clever directorial touch that bookends the film. At the beginning, Mercury is shown preparing for the 1985 Live Aid charity concert and entering the backstage area at Wembley Stadium on his own. At the end, when he’s reconciled with himself, his friends and both families – the other members of Queen and his relatives – we see the whole band arrive at Wembley and take the stage.

And what a stage that was. It says something that I’m now old enough that events I experienced are having movies made about them. But still… if Bohemian Rhapsody was going to finish with anything it was going to be Queen’s set at Live Aid that made the day and stole the show. Neatly, we only see excerpts from the band’s live performances up until this point, and the highlights of the Live Aid songs are presented in full. By this point, Rami Malek is Freddie Mercury to the absolute life and you can’t help willing them on to seize the day. As they power through ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Radio Ga Ga’, ‘Hammer to Fall’ and ‘We are the Champions’, charity donations hit the magic number of £1,000,000 and people were applauding in the cinema.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a fairy tale. I think Freddie would have been both highly amused and very moved by that.

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