Despite an indecisive script and some slight skimming over crucial details, a captivating central performance by Rami Malek holds it all together.
Queen are one of the most beloved rock bands in history. Their music is always recognisable, with a consistent list of hits that continues to be timeless for generation after generation, and their lead singer, Freddie Mercury, is continually named as one of the greatest pop singers of all time with an astonishing vocal range and a flamboyant personality. There is no wonder, then, that Bohemian Rhapsody is one of this year’s most anticipated films. Whilst it might not be the deep character study of Mercury that many people wanted, it’s rather a celebration of the legacy which he and the band left behind that fans will find thoroughly entertaining.
Beginning in 1970 with Freddie (Rami Malek) attending a local gig for the then named band ‘Smile’, Bohemian Rhapsody journeys the rise of Queen all the way up to their most famous performance at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid in 1985. Whilst it has a bulk running time of approximately 2hrs 15mins, it zips along at a fast rate moving from one significant moment to the next, and as a result feels a little disorienting in its first hour as it shows the band’s early years.
The structure is a problem that Anthony McCarten’s script can’t seem to solve, as the film tries (and fails) to decide whether it wants to be a movie about Freddie Mercury or a movie about Queen. This dilemma makes for a very streamlined and broadly stroked first half hour as they record their first album, perform their first sell-out US tour, and are about to record A Night at the Opera, which is a shame if you came to understand how they found their unique musical style. This might be related to the last minute directorial change from Bryan Singer to Dexter Fletcher that halted production, and it has a similar sense of deja vu as Solo: A Star Wars Story, which was also released with a similar degree of criticism. It doesn’t spoil the enjoyment but it leaves plenty to be desired.
This feeling of wanting more continues in the film’s tackling of Freddie’s sexuality: it’s glanced at rather than explored in-depth. But when delved into, the subject provides some of the most memorable and hard-hitting scenes of the film and is refreshing to see in a 12A certificate. An example involves Freddie admitting his sexuality and telling his lover Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) ‘I want you in my life’, with her replying ‘why?’. It’s a beautifully played out scene which subtly sums up the complex feelings of Mercury.
However, these emotional moments would not be as effective without a charismatic central performance which Rami Malek delivers as Freddie Mercury. His mannerisms, such as the overbite with his teeth or the way he struts up and down the stage, are so accurate that we truly believe he is destined for the role (even Sacha Baron Cohen wouldn’t have created such an electrifying presence). I would love for him to be nominated come awards season.
All the events lead up to Queen’s Live Aid gig at Wembley Stadium in 1985, and it seems that they went to great lengths in reenacting one of the greatest live performances by an artist. Particularly in IMAX, it is a real spectacle, as the camera glides over the crowd and towards the stage or cutting to wide shots of Mercury singing ‘Radio Ga Ga’ with approximately 72,000 spectators chanting the words back to him. I myself couldn’t help but also quietly sing along to the set and I didn’t regret it one bit.
Most importantly, this film is not aiming to be an in-depth biopic about the inner conflict and turmoil of Freddie Mercury, but instead is about who he was and what he stood for. Whether you’re a fan of Queen or not will likely impact how much you enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody, but as for their legacy, ‘The Show Must Go On’.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), directed by Bryan Singer, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, certificate 12A.