So I watched the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody a couple of days back. I wrote this one not long after watching the film but didn’t publish it until now as I didn’t want to break my Red Dead Redemption II saga of articles (they’ve been going on for six weeks or so). But now that damn long awaited cowboy game is released, I can resume (almost) normal service.
So I’m a huge and long time Queen fan. I grew up with their music and when Freddie died back in 1991, the world music lost one of its greatest. There can never, nor will there ever be anyone quite like Freddie Mercury. He was so unique that the word “unique” doesn’t do him justice. He was able to do things with his voice that no one else on the planet could manage and that’s not just personal opinion from a fan, its now scientific fact. But before I get into my feelings about the film, a quick history lesson of how this film came to be.
This film has had a long and troubled production with it being originally announced in 2010. Back then, Sacha Baron Cohen was signed up to play Freddie. But Baron Cohen left the project in 2013 due to “creative differences”. Partly due to the fact he felt that the producers and remaining members of Queen wanted to make a family friendly picture while Baron Cohen wanted to make a more adult look at Freddie going deeper into his sexuality and lifestyle, a more honest biopic of you will. A more recent story has come out suggesting that Baron Cohen wasn’t taking the film seriously.
Then in 2013 Ben Whishaw was being tipped to play Freddie while Dexter Fletcher would be in the director’s chair. Both Whishaw and Fletcher left the project by 2014 with both of them citing “creative differences” (the go to excuse for leaving a film project). In 2015 it was suggested that Sacha Baron Cohen could be back as Freddie but that was proven to be false information. For a while, the film was stuck in development hell with numerous writers, directors and actors all hitting the rumor mill over the next few months.
In 2015 the film was confirmed to be back on track and a title was revealed for the first time – Bohemian Rhapsody. All new scripts had been written with Brain May and Roger Taylor attached as consultants and producers. Then in 2016 film was suddenly a-go when Rami Malek was announced to star as Freddie Mercury. Pre-production on the film began in early 2017 and filming started on September 2017 with Bryan Singer as director. Things were going well until filming ground to a halt when Singer stopped showing up to film. Exactly why this is open to speculation, one source says Bryan Singer left the film due to an illness in his family but another suggests that Singer’s poor behaviour on set got him removed from the film. Either way, the production lost it’s director with around two or three weeks still left of filming to do. So re-enter Dexter Fletcher to finish the film who was originally attached to the project back in 2013.
Now with the film having two directors, that caused a problem as rules state only one director can be given credit. It was announced earlier this year that despite his leaving/firing that Bryan Singer would still be credited as director as he did shoot most of the film before Dexter Fletcher stepped in to finish it up.
So then finally after eight years in film development hell, the movie was released on the 24th of October here in the U.K. while our American cousins will have to wait until the 2nd of November. And I was there opening day wearing my Freddie Mercury shirt, with my mom to see this long troubled film. But was it worth it? A quick synopsis before I offer my view…
It opens up with Freddie (Rami Malek) preening himself, trimming his moustache just before heading out on stage for the famous Live Aid gig from 1985. It then jumps back to the early 70s with a teenage Freddie working at Heathrow Airport as a baggage handler where he puts up with racial abuse for being a “pakki”. Young Freddie dreams of bigger things and while at a bar enjoying a pint, he listens to the student band on stage, a band called Smile. With Brain May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) as the lead guitarist and drummer respectively. When the lead singer leaves the band to join Humpy Bong (a folk band founded by former Bee Gees drummer Colin Petersen) Freddie steps in to offer his vocal talent, this is when he first meets Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton).
The band then hire bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and change their name to Queen. They record their first album for EMI and perform their first live gig as Queen. Freddie and Mary grow closer and become lovers as the band also grow from student gigs to tours. Queen begin become a little tired of performing the same type of music over and over so begin to experiment and from that experimentation comes their most famous song, Bohemian Rhapsody. EMI executive Ray Foster (Mike Myers) hates the song and refuses to allow Queen to release it. So the band walk out and take the song elsewhere getting it played by Kenny Everett (Dickie Beau) on his radio show. The song is a smash hit and Queen become huge.
While out on tour in Rio Freddie begins to show an interest in men and when he returns home he confesses to his then girlfriend that he is bisexual. The pair split but remain very close friends. As Queen begin to rise in the world of music, Freddie’s life begins to unravel. Keeping his sexuality from the press despite continual intrusion. Freddie begins to find comfort in drink, drugs and sex with anyone who shows him even the slightest bit of interest. Cracks begin to show in the band as Freddie grows increasingly out of control and he keeps turning up late for recording sessions often drunk, high or both after a heavy night of partying. Eventually, Freddie feels stifled by Queen and decides to go it alone by signing a solo contract behind the back of the other members at the suggestion of his manager. Queen (unofficially) split and go their separate ways.
Freddie moves to Germany to work on his solo music. After a visit from Mary who gives him a few home truths, Freddie returns home after sacking his backstabbing manager and meets up with the other members of Queen to ask them to reform so they can do the Live Aid gig as a way to say goodbye properly. They agree and the film ends with an amazing recreation of (almost) the entire Queen set from Live Aid 1985 and they cement themselves into rock music history.
I’m a huge Queen fan so obviously there is going to be a little bias in my view. The film is utterly brilliant. Now its not perfect and hardcore Queen fans (like me) will spot several flaws especially if you have seen as many Queen documentaries and interviews as I have. This is a biopic and like other biopics certain aspects are exaggerated, changed and twisted to make the film more entertaining. What I’m trying to say is that not everything in this film is 100% factual. But creative licence has to be expected with these kinds of movies, they are not documentaries, they are films. I’m not going to concentrate on the half truths in the film but will highlight a few issues.
First, the film is rated 12A here in the U.K. and if you know anything about the life of Freddie Mercury then you’d know aspects would’ve had to have been diluted to fit that 12A rating… and diluted the film is. Things like the drug usage is not explicitly shown and only hinted at, Freddie’s bisexuality is lightly shown with a couple of gay kisses and that’s about it. But I didn’t go the film to watch gay sex, I went to watch a film about Freddie’s life and that is what I got. There is a scene where Freddie throws one of his infamous lavish parties and even that is watered down from reality. The real parties are legendary in the world of music with Freddie having naked dwarfs (sorry, little people) with trays of cocaine on their head for the guests, performers biting the heads off live chickens, rampant sex and so much more. The party scene in the film shows none of this though and is not as wild as the real things were. Freddie led such an overtly hedonistic lifestyle that even the Roman Emperor Caligula would have suggested that Freddie tone it down a bit. Plus the film shows Brian May not enjoying the party when in reality, he was one of the people who would suggest them and enjoyed himself as much as Freddie.
Second, I didn’t like when the film ended. Note I didn’t say “how” it ended but “when”. To be honest, the recreation of the Live Aid set is stunning, those last ten minutes or so of the flick that show an abridged version of Queen’s now legendary performance is jaw dropping. But there is so much more to the story of Queen after Live Aid that is not shown in the film. Live Aid was their turning point, they had all but broken up and were thought of as a washed up band (especially in America) with nothing left. After that gig, Queen went on to become world dominating and there is so much more story to be told about their music. Plus there is the relationship between Freddie and his lover Jim Hutton to explore which is only lightly touched on in the film, his continual relationship with Mary Austin to the point where Freddie became godfather to her son. And of course there is the death of the man himself and how he kept recording despite the fact he was in so much pain and discomfort right to the very end. There really is so much more story to be told about Freddie/Queen and this really feels like only half a film. Its a fantastic half a film, but still only half of the story. I’ve seen a tone of these biopics and always felt satisfied at the end but this film left a bit of a gap and needs a sequel, there must be a Bohemian Rhapsody 2. Just having a bit of text at the end of the film pointing out Freddie died of bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS didn’t really cut it for me.
That’s about it for the negatives really. On to the positives.
The cast have to be addressed here. Of course Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury is amazing. He has the voice, the mannerisms and everything. There are times during the Live Aid finale when a few long shots are shown and I’m not sure of it was Rami or Freddie himself using actual Live Aid footage. In fact, I’m pretty sure I spotted a cheeky cameo from the real Freddie during one shot. The strutting on stage the arm waving/air punching, Rami has it all nailed. I said earlier how there can never, nor will there ever be anyone quite like Freddie Mercury and I stand by that – but Rami Malek is pretty bloody close. I’d like to see a side by side comparison between the actual Live Aid footage and the end scene in this film to see just how close it all was. Everyone is talking about Rami Malek’s performance and rightly so to as its (almost) flawless, but I think he’s already getting enough praise. He deserves every ounce of it too and any recognition or awards he may get along the way. But there are other equally as great performances too.
The other three band members of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon played by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello respectively are all brilliant. Four great actors coming together to reunite four of the best musicians in music. After Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee’s Brian May was the stand out performance for me though. Brian in the film is just as spot on as Freddie is and I just feel that Rami Malek (as deserving as he is) will overshadow the other actors here. Gwilym Lee deserves just as much praise. Then there is Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Freddie’s former girlfriend and long time friend. Yet another strong performance that I feel will be overlooked. You really feel her pain as she loses her boyfriend but refuses to give up on him at the same time.
But my absolute favorite bit of casting? Its really just a glorified cameo from Mike Myers as Ray Foster the EMI records executive who turns down the Bohemian Rhapsody record after listening to it. Now I can’t remember the exact quote, but after hearing the record he says something along the lines of, “Teenagers won’t be banging their heads to this”. Seeing as it was Mike Myers who introduced Bohemian Rhapsody to a new legion of fans with his movie Wanye’s World in 1992 and helped get the song to the top of the charts seventeen years after its original release, its a great in-joke…
As a quick aside. Freddie actually got to see the above scene before he died in 1991 as the film was completed before his passing and released a few months following his death. Brain May has said that Freddie loved the scene and gave Mike Myers his blessing to use the song too. So Mike Myers being the guy to turn the song down its a fitting tribute as well as an ironic joke.
I’m sorry but I must break out an overused cliché here. The film is a roller-coaster of emotions. There are funny and light hearted moments that will leave you with a smile on your face. Such as the band discussing the merits of the Roger Taylor penned “joke” song I’m in Love with My Car or Freddie continually telling Roger to go higher and higher on the “Galileo!” when recording Bohemian Rhapsody. Then you’ll have tears in your eyes during the more heavier scenes. Two such scenes that spring to mind are the one where Freddie finally comes out as bisexual to Mary while the song Love of My Life plays in the background, a song Freddie wrote specifically for Mary. The scene features some sterling acting from both Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton. Then later, toward the end of the film another scene has Freddie attend a hospital where he is told he has AIDS. Such a powerful scene with very little dialogue (I think there’s only one line) but the powerful and emotive Who Wants To Live Forever plays in the background. Honestly, I was welling up.
Yeah of course it goes without saying that the film’s soundtrack is sublime… but I’m going to say it anyway. Its Queen, of course its a brilliant soundtrack. It was great to hear some of the very early stuff such as Keep Yourself Alive, one of my favourite early Queen songs that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Seeing how some songs were slowly created and evolved such as Brian May slowly building We Will Rock You with the iconic foot stomps and claps was joyful.
As for the Live Aid finale. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. I have very strong memories of watching Live Aid live back in 85. Both myself and my mom sat there staring at the T.V. in awe while Queen did their thing. I think I was only about 8 or 9 at the time but that twenty odd minutes watching Queen at Wembley Stadium left a lasting impression on me. Then there I was, a now 42 year old man sitting in the cinema with my mom next to me reliving that same experience 33 years later. Honestly, one of the best moments I have witnessed on the big screen. Then as Queen were in the midst of belting out Radio Ga Ga, mom leaned over to me and simply said “it has to be done.” and I knew exactly what she meant, so up went the arms and we both clapped along to the chorus. So there were me and mom doing the Radio Ga Ga bit and as I looked around, other people in the cinema joined in. It was almost like being there live, a genuinely amazing experience. The seats in the cinema gently rocked back and forth as people tapped/stomped their feet and clapped along. A special thanks to my mom for reliving a childhood memory with me.
The re-enactment of Live Aid at the end of this film is stunning and clearly done with passion, worth the price of the ticket alone.
If you’re a Queen fan, of course you are going to watch the film and you’ll enjoy it too. Just remember that it is a biopic and some elements have been altered to make the film more interesting. Its not a factual documentary but its still telling the story of the greatest front-man ever and one of the greatest rock bands to ever grace a stage. So then, is This The Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy? It’s a bit of both really, but more real life than fantasy. If you’re not a Queen fan, I still suggest checking the film out. Its funny, its emotional and above all, it rocks! You never know, you might just end up becoming a fan of Queen yourself.
A cracking film with laughs, tears, awesome music and some truly amazing performances from the entire cast. It Will Rock You!
We just need a sequel to finish the story up.
“I pity your wife if you think six minutes is forever.”
– Freddie Mercury
3 thoughts on “Bohemian Rhapsody: Is This The Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy?”
What a fab write up . I think you have it all in there Steve, well presented and all major moments covered. The emotions of the film come through in your words and photo’s , reading this has made me want to see it again
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A pity that Sacha Baron Cohen didn’t get the role….still the music delivered, especially the live aid gig. that was incredible
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Looks like we might be getting that sequel I asked for…