It’s been nearly 30 years since Queen’s legendary lead singer Freddie Mercury passed away, but we’re finally getting a pseudo bio-pic with Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s helmed by talented but controversial director Bryan Singer (though Dexter Fletcher actually took over late in the process) and stars Mr. Robot‘s Rami Malek in a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor while the movie landed one for Best Picture.
While it’s not a documentary by any means, Bohemian Rhapsody picks up with Mercury (Malek) working at Heathrow Airport as a baggage handler. He aspires to bigger things, however, and when local band Smile, which features Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy; X-Men Apocalypse) and Brian May (Gwilym Lee), has its lead singer quit, Mercury steps in and joins the group. They soon add John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello; somehow still recognizable as the kid from Jurassic Park) and Queen is born.
As the band starts to take off, Freddie meets Mary (Lucy Boynton; Murder on the Orient Express) and the the two fall in love. Queen’s ascent leads to them signing with John Reid (Aiden Gillen; Game of Thrones), who also represents Elton John, and together they start touring and putting out albums while Freddie and Mary get married. Despite his love for Mary, however, Freddie finds himself attracted to men as well.
Queen continues to thrive commercially, but the band starts to clash creatively and also over the rise of Mercury as the front man and his relationship with Paul (Allen Leech; Downton Abbey), who serves as Freddie’s manager and love interest. With Freddie seemingly in a downward spiral and rival record labels looking to add him as a solo act it looks like a rough time on the horizon for Queen.
Unsurprisingly, Malek’s performance is the best thing about the film, hands down. The way he looks and carries himself just exudes stardom, and he owns every scene he’s in — and he’s in just about all of them. We haven’t seen all of the other nominees, but Malek would be a worthy winner, and this is sure to be a launching point for his career in films. In fact, he’s so good, it’s hard to believe his most notable work has all been on the small screen.
By and large, Queen made pretty fun music, and one needn’t be a fan of theirs to identify and enjoy their greatest hits as the band creates them. We’ll confess we didn’t recognize all of the songs to appear in the film, but we knew the majority of them, all of which are brought to life with convincing performances and back stories when they were made.
Bohemian Rhapsody concludes with a recreation of their full 20-minute set at Live Aid in 1985, which is an interesting choice, allowing what turns out to be a sad story to end on a high note (even if the scenes of the phone bank veer into the silly). All four principles deliver, particularly Malek, and it’s an impressive performance.
We won’t pretend to be musical scholars, but it’s no secret that Bohemian Rhapsody plays fast and loose with the facts in the interest of creating drama. Some changes make sense, like streamlining the band’s formation and rolling meeting Mary into it for pacing, but having the band break up, which never happened, and then acting as though Live Aid was a reunion for which they’d hardly prepared is a pretty major departure from reality.
Along those same lines, Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis is also accelerated and then used to make an inspirational speech to the rest of the band members before Live Aid — they really found out roughly four years later, and Mercury was even unaware in ’85. That’s a sensitive subject, and it should’ve been handled more delicately and accurately.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There are three significant extras, a 15-minute featurette about Malik becoming Freddie Mercury, 20-plus minutes about capturing the look and feel of the rest of the band and another 20 minutes dealing with the recreation of the Live Aid concert, all of which feature comments from the real Brian May and Roger Taylor. They’re all fine, but we’re curious why there’s little actual footage from Queen and none whatsoever from Live Aid. If accuracy was so critical, why not show parts of the real thing? It doesn’t make sense.
Rami Malek gives a star-making performance that helps make Bohemian Rhapsody a fun romp with plenty of cool costumes and catchy music, but the historical deviations hang like a cloud over the finished product.