Freddie Mercury is, arguably, one of the greatest performers who ever lived. Instantly recognizable and iconic due to his flamboyant, eccentric stage-persona, outrageous dress sense and angelic voice, Mercury was the figurehead of Queen, one of the most popular and enduring rock bands in history. Yet, as many know, there is more to the man than the music, the costumes and the performances. Decades after Mercury's tragic death at the hands of the AIDS virus, he has been elevated from mere mortal into an immortal icon of rock music, and music in general, so it is little surprise that a biopic about this man's incredible life story and rise to success would be made. Titled "Bohemian Rhapsody" after the bands magnum opus, the film tackles Mercury's rise to super-stardom, from his beginnings as Farrokh Bulsara, a Parsi immigrant, to his meeting of Brian May and Roger Taylor, his rise to fame, and tragic battle with HIV.
Understandably of course, I was sceptical before entering the cinema. For myself, and many others, Freddie Mercury remains an icon, a beloved figure adored across the world for his boldness, bravery and musical genius. For a film to do justice to such a remarkable, and larger than life character is a daunting prospect, especially with the myriad of setbacks that assaulted Rhapsody's production, including the firing of director Bryan Singer, and the initial departure of Sacha Baron Cohen as the film's protagonist.
Thankfully, as a biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody succeeds remarkably, but to an extent.
From the film's beginning, there are signs of a deft and thankful handling of Mercury's life and back-story. We are introduced to our protagonist as a young man, working at Heathrow part-time whilst studying design at University. Mercury's Parsi heritage, (the singer hailed from Zanzibar) are thankfully openly addressed, though at times, there are hints of the movie wanting to tackle issues of race and discrimination which never quite get off the ground. However, the pacing continues at a brisk rate, meaning the audience is not bogged down in unnecessary details, and only focusing on what is most important to the development of Mercury's story. In terms of plot and pacing, the film remains easy to follow yet engaging enough to keep the audience alert, aided of course by visually spectacular and brilliant song numbers and renditions of Queen's most popular hits, as well as highly entertaining insights into the bands recording process and unique, bizarre musical experimentation.
To a degree, Queen's iconic status is a boon to the film, especially to long term fans of the band's music such as myself-it is very difficult not to become excited and absorbed once you hear the opening bars of a classic like Killer Queen or Somebody To Love. The film tracks Queen's career progress in a highly entertaining fashion which never sinks to open glorification of the band. We see their spats, their arguments, disagreements and rows over music (including a particularly entertaining running gag of drummer Roger Taylor's song I'm In Love With My Car) and the tension that grows between the band members as their success rises exponentially. The film does rely at times a bit too heavily on dramatic irony, which sometimes works to its advantage, and sometimes doesn't. A scene showing how Bohemian Rhapsody was critically panned upon its release for example, is interesting and a clever choice-the harsh criticism of the music industry is juxtaposed with our current perception of the song as a masterpiece. On the other hand, lines such as "In a few years no one will remember the name Queen" (delivered by Mike Myers in a very amusing cameo as producer Ray Foster) come off as a tad too tongue in cheek and self-congratulatory, almost eye-roll worthy in how cliché they are.
Yet by far the film's redeeming features are its performances. Ben Hardy and Gwilym Lee are both amazing as both Roger Taylor and Brian May respectively (Lee in particular bears an almost uncanny resemblance to May) and tie the band together with natural, effortless chemistry, and sincere, realistic portrayals. Mike Myers, as mentioned before, provides a cameo which brings much appreciated comic relief, and Lucy Boynton delivers a poignant, emotional and nuanced portrayal of Mary Austin, Mercury's first love-interest and wife. Boynton carries herself with as much skill and talent as her fellow cast members, a remarkable feat due to many being veterans of the industry, and manages to deliver sympathy and subtlety to what could have easily become an opaque, one-dimensional love interest.
However, I am reserving the brunt of my praise for the film's star, Rami Malek. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Malek delivers a performance as Mercury that is unparalleled in its brilliance and almost unmatched in its faithfulness to the man he is portraying. Rarely have I seen such a truly jaw-dropping portrayal. Malek delivers a phenomenal and outstanding performance as Mercury, masterfully capturing his larger-than-life attitude, flamboyance and panache without ever descending into caricature or coming off as mocking and unreal. He balances the energetic, explosive energy of Mercury with some truly poignant moments of emotion, in particular with Mercury's realization of his diagnosis of HIV and his struggles with his homosexuality. Watching Malek is a delight and a treasure in every way. Every flick of the microphone, every strut, every movement evokes and captures Mercury's performance so effectively it is almost unbelievable and I will be extremely disappointed if Malek is not considered worthy of an Oscar nod. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of a film like Bohemian Rhapsody is delivering a portrayal of Mercury on par with the real thing, a man so unique he is considered irreplaceable. Malek, to his credit, does Mercury justice.
Bohemian Rhapsody must also be praised for how it handles more touchy, difficult matters such as Mercury's homosexuality. To the films credit, it openly and unabashedly shows Mercury's homosexual relationships, where other films would have been too spineless to go all the way, Bohemian Rhapsody never shirks away from any detail, whether it be Mercury's slew of lovers or the outrageous, cocaine fuelled orgies and party's he would host in his enormous mansion. Mercury's AIDS diagnosis is also handled extremely well in my opinion-the film shows Mercury's bravery in tackling the disease, but never martyrs him. It also openly acknowledges the increadibly important role Mercury's fellow band members played in Queen's success, and never hands Mercury all the credit.
Whilst at times the film does teeter dangerously close to becoming saccharine, and a few decisions I personally found uninspired or poorly developed (the film never addresses some of the more risqué and controversial aspects of Queen's history which make the band all the more interesting) as a fan of Queen, it is impossible to leave the movie with a smile plastered to your face. Balancing genuinely comedic moments with touching, heartfelt scenes, nothing can compare to the heart-pounding, adrenaline rush inspired by watching Queen perform their greatest hits and compose their most enduring songs. The final act, set during Queen's legendary performance during Live Aid is the film's peak and crowning achievement. Only the most jaded and heartless viewer will not feel the urge to cheer as Mercury triumphantly belts out "We Are The Champions" in front of a screaming, cheering crowd of fans, and I confess I found myself grinning like a deranged lunatic as Malek strode across the stage, looking to the letter like Mercury himself, performing Bohemian Rhapsody.
All in all, despite a few wrong turns here and there and missed opportunities to create a more thought provoking and stimulating biopic, Bohemia Rhapsody crests these setbacks through a combination of stunning set pieces, thrilling musical numbers and a performance of a lifetime by Rami Malek, to deliver a crowd-pleasing, endlessly enjoyable film that chronicles the rise of one of history's most innovative rock bands, and most importantly, commemorates and celebrates in true flamboyant, dazzling fashion, the life and talent of music's most incredible star.
Pablo LC, Year 12