Bohemian Rhapsody takes on what is probably the hardest of all storytelling tasks. To give you an account of a real person, and someone who died not that long ago. There won’t be many who’ll never have heard of Freddie Mercury and Queen, listened to their music, watched their videos, and read about their private lives. So your expectations of a film like this will have a deal to do with how much you like their art, and, of course, Mercury’s flamboyant showmanship.
But that’s not all. This is Freddie’s story. What do you want from it? All the details, especially the salacious ones? Or do you prefer a more sanitised treatment? And should a film like this be treated as a factual account? Is it akin to a documentary?
I throw out all these questions because even a quick reading of reviews of Bohemian Rhapsody finds many who find fault with it. It’s left this out. It’s glossed over that. It diminishes this. It’s not, they’re saying, the real story.
Really this is the sort of film that some will love and others will find lacking. That’s just how it is. I know, this is a terribly long introduction to a review, but it needs to be said. And having said all that, here’s what I think.
I came into this film well aware of Queen and Mercury, but not I was not and am not a big fan. They gave us some memorable rock anthems, and Bohemian Rhapsody itself is an undeniable masterpiece. But other lyrics, and Mercury’s theatricality, didn’t really speak to me, and I never devoted much time or energy to Queen.
That’s a good place to be for a film like this. Low expectations. And so, despite a few niggling concerns here and there, I ended up enjoying Bohemian Rhapsody tremendously. It builds well, gives us entertaining insights into the creation of some of the band’s big songs, and most importantly, through an extremely sympathetic reading of Mercury by Rami Malek, lets us (as much as is possible) into his heart and soul, his demons, and his tragedy. At film’s end the actors, and director Bryan Singer, treat us to one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen on screen. You’d have to have a heart set in granite not to be moved by it.
My niggles probably won’t be yours, but for the record, I would have liked an insight into the origins of Freddy’s voice and out-there style of performing. We meet his conservative and self-contained parents and they provide no answers.
And while the film gives us examples of friction within the band, overall I thought the other members of Queen seemed just a bit too nice. They came across as rather bland, which surely can’t have been the case. Maybe that’s how they were, and maybe the fact that the real Queen survivors had a big hand in the production of the film has something to do with this.
Some have criticised the glossing over of details of Mercury’s sexual promiscuity and drug fuelled lifestyle. I didn’t mind. It’s there, referred to in a clever way I thought, with a look here and a nod or a wink there, or with white powder left on a glass table top.
But it all comes back to Malek. He holds our attention, his eyes letting us in to both Mercury’s bravado and his tortured fragility. It’s performance that will stay long in the memory. Don’t go in to Bohemian Rhapsody expecting a documentary. But do expect an emotional and ultimately stirring piece of cinema. Again, I’m no Queen fan, but I highly recommend this film.