Everyone loves a Queen song, right? Their epic rock anthems are always a staple of any classic music list and an instant sing along at a party. But do you want to know the true story behind the band, particularly enigmatic front man, Freddie Mercury? Well Bohemian Rhapsody supposedly offers the ‘true’ story behind it all. The reality though is a superficial and sanitized look that while entertaining offers little in the way of insight.
Bohemian Rhapsody follows the meteoric rise during the 1970s of Queen to becoming a worldwide sensation to the demise of Freddy Mercury, their lead singer due to HIV/AIDS related illness in 1991. What should be a story that looks at the consequences of addiction and excess though feels like a rather tame and superficial exploration of one of the world’s biggest band.
Take for example the Freddy Mercury lifestyle – his bisexuality and his excessive drug taking are present but mainly by implication. A passing interview, a pile of drugs on a table and weight-loss and blood-filled coughing are as hard hitting as it gets. I’m not saying what was needed was explicit content, but it feels like a movie that wants to maintain an almost sacred view of its lead character, so nothing is done to tarnish that. The result is that it feels toothless and almost saccharine. There is a cruelty to the disease that took Mercury’s life yet none of that horror is present here.
It would be one thing to have that but have compelling characters or drama but again none of that is involved. The surviving members of Queen are portrayed as mere deliverers of lines of dialogue rather than actual people. It might be fair to say they faded into the background of Mercury but the cliché of lead singer taking the limelight over his band mates, is not a revealing true story. It’s a boring one. More importantly who is Mary Austin and why does she capture his heart especially given his tendencies why is she not more than a pretty face.
Still for everything that you feel that is superficial and sanitised there is enough driving Bohemian Rhapsody forward to make it entertaining. One of the key factors is Rami Malek as Queen front man, Freddie Mercury. From Grandiose camp to arrogant selfishness all is captured in his performance. It helps that only Mercury is really explored as a three-dimensional character but that doesn’t take away from a captivating portrayal.
The other fascinating element about Bohemian Rhapsody is the actual creation of the music, the recording of it, the struggle to release it and the various clashes over which tracks would be go on an album. Combine that with the classic nature of the music being played and even if you’re not loving the movie, you will find yourself passing time in a sing-along which actually seem to happen in my screening.
Bohemian Rhapsody Cheat Sheet:
Those looking for the ‘real’ or ‘true’ story of Queen will be disappointed by Bohemian Rhapsody with its sanitised portrayal of Freddy Mercury and its superficial one of everyone else involved with Queen. Yet it offers a brilliant lead performance, some insight into the music and you know a killer soundtrack to make it watchable and entertaining at times. Forgettable for the most part but watchable still.
+ Great performance by Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury.
+ Some insight into their musical creation and struggles.
+The soundtrack, obviously!
-the sanitised version of Mercury’s life.
-superficial supporting characters especially given they are real people.
-the most cliché of rock stories.