Is this the real life?
The show must go on? Or do stop me now?
We’re a family,” says Queen’s big-haired guitar hero Brian May in Bohemian Rhapsody. Who would have guessed that meant family-friendly? Queen finally gets a toned-down 12A biopic, which may come as a surprise to those expecting scenes of the hardcore partying the band was famed for. Instead, the guys enjoy tea and cake.
The film is similarly tentative about frontman Freddie Mercury’s sexuality; there’s the odd montage of him gliding through leather bars, and suggestive glances towards men at truck stops. What the film does – and does well – however, is pay tribute to the singer’s exuberant stage presence. It’s a
stupendous turn by Rami Malek, the Mr. Robot star capturing Freddie’s swagger with Oscar-worthy skill.
Directed by Bryan Singer, who was fired in the final weeks of production and replaced by Dexter Fletcher, Bohemian Rhapsody drives towards a defining moment: the band’s triumphant show at 1985’s Live Aid. But really, it’s a Greatest Hits package – we see drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) recording the “Galileo” lyrics for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, May (Gwilym Lee) coming up with stomping anthem ‘We Will Rock You’, and bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) propelling Queen into disco with that riff for ‘Another One Bites The Dust’.
The script by Anthony McCarten (The Theory Of Everything) crunches the chronology when it comes to personal matters, too; not least Freddie revealing that he has Aids during rehearsals for Live Aid, when in fact he was diagnosed two years later. Likewise, the singer reuniting with partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), then taking him for (more) tea and cake with his parents on the day of Live Aid all smacks of screenwriting fantasy.
Yet, to be fair, McCarten does mine emotion from Mercury’s arc. A former Heathrow baggage handler, our hero finds glory on stage. Off it, however, he struggles with loneliness and having to hide his sexuality. Freddie’s tender relationship with long-term girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) gives the film its heart, while scenes with his disapproving father (Ace Bhatti), who tries to instil “good words, good deeds” in his son, are touching.
What works less well is Freddie’s relationship with Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), part of his management team, who comes across as the film’s one-dimensional villain. Ditto EMI’s Ray Foster (a heavily disguised Mike Myers), who fails to see the genius in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The CGI crowds at Live Aid are another niggle; but when you see Malek strutting his stuff to ‘We Are The Champions’, you probably won’t care. James Mottram
Definitely not killer Queen, but thanks to a blinding turn from Malek, fans of the band will get their kicks.
There’s no stopping Rami Malek now…