Unarguably an iconic rock group, Queen has had a legacy that has spanned generations. From legendary songs to film soundtracks to musicals, the band has certainly left its mark on popular culture, in part due to the distinctive flamboyance of it’s lead singer Freddie Mercury. Decades after his death, and a few failed attempts in pre-production later, his life and times forms the basis of Bohemian Rhapsody.
Born Farrokh Bulsara, Bohemian Rhapsody charts the rise of this iconic showman (played with gusto by Rami Malek) from the young Zanzibar born English immigrant’s first meeting with Brain May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and the formation of Queen (sorry John Deacon, you really are this film’s Ringo). It also shows Mercury’s understanding of his own identity, both theatrically and personally, and the love affair and bonding friendship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). A relationship which evolves as Mercury realises that he is gay.
For both good and ill this is a bit like a Greatest Hits album. Bohemian Rhapsody gives you all the bits you like, but they’re removed from the context and emotional flow of the source. It’s a film that tries to cover too much, and in the breadth of its scope manages to cover it in a relatively perfunctory way, rarely tapping the emotional core of the figures involved. This is not to detract from the performances (Malek in particular gives a career defining performance as Freddie), rather that in running through Mercury’s life in such a cursory manner, Bohemian Rhapsody, feels like it’s just ticking the boxes in a manner we’ve seen from many other music bio-pics. Despite the drama and struggle of Mercury coming to terms both with his sexuality, and the excesses of his life, the first two thirds of the film are almost bereft of affect in all but the most sentimental way.
On the other side of the coin, there is the music, and that seems to be where the main power of this film is lurking. Those segments covering Queen’s performances, the myths surrounding the creation of some of their work and the use of those songs themselves, are where Bohemian Rhapsody really hits the high notes. The band has been one of those staples of music, crossing decades, generations, and genres to burrow into our consciousness. Hence when we hear those first few notes from a plethora of greats from Queen’s extensive back catalogue, then we are primed for what is to follow. The show stopper is a spectacular recreation of the band’s Live Aid performance that does justice to the legendary set. Here Ramek crystallises his dedication to the role as he holds the audience enthralled in the palm of his hand with the skill and grace of Freddie himself.
A film that ultimately doesn’t do the life of its subject matter justice, it still manages to wow with its spectacle and soundtrack. Not really enough for the man that wanted it all, but it’ll have to do for the rest of us.