Bohemian Rhapsody’s journey to the big screen has not been without its trials. First being proposed back in 2010, many reports have since come through of it being an incredibly laborious passion project for Brian May and ‘Queen’. This is emphasised by the dismissal of several cast members, including Sacha Baron Cohen, originally cast to play ‘Freddie Mercury’, due to ‘creative differences’. More recently and to the shock of many, the firing of director Bryan Singer was announced just weeks before the project was due to finish filming. Now reaching the big screen, it has been met with some rather scathing criticism. However, I would like to argue this is unjustified.
I can’t help but feel the film quite perfectly encompassed what it set out to do
The most recurring critique thus far of the film is that it is bland and tells us nothing we didn’t already know before. It chooses to focus primarily on ‘Queen’s earlier years, both beginning and ending the narrative with their iconic performance at Live Aid in 1985. I would perhaps agree with this – as a ‘Queen’ fan, Bohemian Rhapsody did not particularly enlighten me to any part of ‘Queen’s journey that I wasn’t already acquainted with. However, if someone were to ask me for scandalous documentations of Freddie Mercury’s life, that so many critics argue this film is missing, I would immediately point them in the direction of several hundred that exist on YouTube. There is no shortage of speculation, clips of his outrageous moments, legendary performances – the list goes on. Any ‘Queen’ fan that wants to exploit the man’s private life for all it was worth need not exactly look far. Maybe the apparent dismissal of this part of his life is why several cast members chose to leave the project. Yet I can’t help but feel the film quite perfectly encompassed what it set out to do – celebrate a fantastic band, and an incredible performer.
Highlighted particularly by the reviews is the disregard for Mercury’s illness and untimely death due to aids. This fact frustrates me, as I felt the reasoning for such a choice was adequately addressed in the film. It is a relatively well-known fact that Mercury chose not to discuss his illness publicly, and did not reveal the nature of his condition until the day before his death. In the film, Rami Malek as ‘Mercury’ addresses this in a way that I can only imagine both Mercury and the band wanted it to be addressed; he was a performer and an entertainer and it was his choice to not be an advocate or ‘poster boy’ for an illness. Perhaps if Mercury had lived now this choice not to speak publicly would have been different, but it is unfair to ask friends and family who were so involved in the production to choose on behalf of a deceased love one. This film chooses to respect Mercury’s choice and legacy as he left it. This is along with what is arguably a fair documentation of Mercury’s sexuality. The film does not shy away from this part of Mercury’s persona, but rather chooses to respectfully keep it in conjunction with his life as a performer, and not making a spectacle out of the affairs a performer tried to keep private when he was alive.
His depiction of Mercury as a shy and almost alienated young man into a flamboyant and adored performer is admirable
The film is deserving of praise in its celebration of ‘Queen’ and Mercury. Malek in particular gives a fantastic performance, in spite of perhaps a slightly overemphasized set of teeth. His depiction of Mercury as a shy and almost alienated young man, into a flamboyant and adored performer is admirable, and indeed a task that no actor would take lightly. Gwilym Lee also gives a good performance as the more sensible Brian May, keeping the clashing personas of Mercury and Ben Hardy’s ‘Roger Taylor’ in check. Also deserving of immense praise is costume designer Julian Day, who is somewhat overlooked in current reviews of the film. His dedication to recreating the iconic looks of ‘Queen’ is so flawless that one could easily disregard it.
Ultimately Bohemian Rhapsody is not the scandalous biopic that perhaps many had hoped for. However I am not displeased with the final product, in fact quite the opposite, as was probably apparent by my singing along to every song. It makes for a very enjoyable viewing experience, one that serves to remind how powerful ‘Queen’s music is and continues to be, and how Freddie Mercury blazed a trail for many unique performers to follow him.