RHAPSODY OVERCOMES ADVERSITY
The new Freddie Mercury and Queen biopic lurched from one major drama to another but it hasn’t stopped star Rami Malek from turning in an eye-catching performance as the troubled late, great rock star
What’s perhaps most remarkable about this Freddie Mercury and Queen biopic is how well it has survived the tumultuous backstage drama that dogged it almost every step of the way.
Sacha Baron Cohen, who initially signed on to play the role of Queen’s iconic lead singer, left the project in 2013 due to creative differences with the remaining band members.
A year later, replacement director Dexter Fletcher also parted ways with Bohemian Rhapsody – presumably on good terms – along with his new lead, Ben Whishaw.
Although you won’t see his name in the final credits (due to Directors Guild of America rules), Fletcher ( Eddie the Eagle, Rocketman) returned to the project in December after director Bryan Singer ( X-Men, Superman Returns) was sacked, two-thirds the way through filming, due to unexplained absences and clashes with cast and crew.
Lead actor Rami Malek transcends these significant behind-the-scenes obstacles – as well as an awkward prosthetic mouthpiece – to create a soulful impression of the late, great rock star, successfully channelling Mercury’s sinuous stage persona in a series of charismatic concert performances underpinned by Queen’s rousing back catalogue. He even pulls off We Are The Champions’ spray on, monochrome catsuit.
When it comes to Mercury’s sexual awakening, well, lets just say that what happens on the road, largely stays on the road, although there is one vibrant sequence set in a gay leather bar that suggests the primal excitement of this promiscuous underground scene.
And there is a party that hints at the wildness and debauchery of Mercury’s extreme lifestyle – while simultaneously introducing a future love interest.
But although Bohemian Rhapsody feels like an “authorised” version of Mercury’s story – Queen guitarist Brian May (played here by Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) are credited as musical consultants – it’s more than mere hagiography.
The singer’s long-term companion Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) proves a solid counterpoint to his later liaison with obsequious personal manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech).
Bohemian Rhapsody portrays Mercury as a man who was born to perform, but who struggled to find an authentic identity off stage.
And despite its chequered history, the biopic hits all the right beats – even if one suspects that some of them have been manipulated to fit the designated rhythm.
It would be nice to think Mercury’s strict, disapproving Zoroastrian dad did eventually accept his gay son – but the timing of their embrace, on the way to Live Aid, is remarkably convenient.
Bohemian Rhapsody is being promoted as a “foot-stomping” celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer. That pretty much sums it up. Bohemian Rhapsody (M) opens in cinemas today
Rami Malek channels the late, great rock icon Freddie Mercury in a scene from the much-anticipated new Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.