Bohemian Rhapsody

Posted: November 25, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello.

bohemian-rhapsody-rami-malek

It’s 1970 and immigrant college student Farrokh Bulsara dreams of being a rock star, though he’s mainly earning money as a baggage handler at Heathrow. He’s been following a band named Smile for some time, and fortuitously approaches them with some lyrics just after their lead singer has quit to join another band. Although initially sniffy about the odd-looking Farrokh, guitarist Brian May (Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Hardy) are won over by his voice. On the same evening Farrokh catches the eye of a young shop assistant, Mary Austin (Boynton).

With the addition of bassist John Deacon (Mazzello) the band become a success, changing their name to Queen even as Farrokh changes his name to Freddie Mercury and becomes engaged to Mary.

As the band go from strength to strength however, it becomes increasingly clear that despite his love for Mary, Freddie needs to come to terms with his sexuality. As friction builds within the band, and Freddie’s hedonistic partying threatens to get out of hand, can Queen come back together in time for the Live Aid concert, or with this band bite the dust?

 

Ok, let’s lay cards on the table right away. Bohemian Rhapsody is a cheesy story, told with broad brushstrokes, clunky dialogue and a cavalier attitude towards historical fact. This is a film with a troubled history, and a film that couldn’t be more on the nose if it were Pinocchio.

And I bloody loved it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great film, yet somehow it manages to surpass the sum of its parts, thanks in no small part to a fine performance by Mr Robot’s Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Given what a larger than life showman Mercury was, it’s to Malek’s testament that he manages to not only to strut his stuff in an eerily accurate way, but also imbue Mercury with a vulnerability that forms the heart of the film. Yes the teeth get a little getting used to, but once you acclimatise Malek inhabits Mercury’s skin effortlessly, and if you get a chance watch the side by side movie Live Aid and real Live Aid to truly appreciate how good his performance is, and whilst you can see why Sacha Baron Cohen was originally cast, and why Ben Whishaw was considered, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role now.

DF-26946_R.jpgMercury cuts a sad figure, suffering racism and having to deal with being gay at a time when homosexuality might have no longer been a crime, but was still frowned upon, especially by the media. His relationship with Mary is heart-breaking at times, because he so clearly loves her, just not in the way she would want him to, and Boynton is also very good as the person who grounds Freddie.

Lee, Hardy and Mazzello are all good as the bandmates, each of them doing a good job of aping the real May, Taylor and Deacon, and despite the fact that the film is primarily about Mercury, the rest of Queen are more than just background (as you’d expect given May and Taylor’s involvement in the film).

There’s sterling work from solid performers like Tom Hollander, Aidan Gillen and Allen Leach, although a cameo by a heavily made up Mike Myers and a gag about Wayne’s World plumbs the depths somewhat.

bohemian-rhapsody-3.jpgIt’s amazing the film is as coherent as it is given the troubles on set, with Singer eventually stepping aside for personal reasons after clashing with the cast and repeatedly turning up late. Dexter Fletcher came in to finish the film, but Singer retains the directorial credit and I guess we may never know how much a hand Fletcher may, or may not, have had in salvaging the film.

The film’s at its clunkiest early on, and some of the dialogue is risible. “Ah you’re Brian May, astrophysicist, and you’re Roger Taylor, dental student.” It does get more fluid as it progresses however, and even in its down points the music of Queen is always a joy to listen to, especially if Malek and co are strutting their stuff at the time, and there are genuinely heart-breaking moments, and the recreation of Queen’s Live Aid set is a glorious set piece worth the price of admission all on its own.

The film does take liberties with the truth however; Freddie didn’t meet the band and Mary on the same night, he didn’t get his HIV diagnosis until after Live Aid and the band hadn’t effectively broken up before Wembley, but artistic licence isn’t exactly unheard of in biopics, and despite concerns that the film would sugar-coat Freddie’s life, his sexuality and partying are front and centre. Of course it could go a lot further (by all accounts one of Baron Cohen’s reasons for exiting was because he wanted an R rated film) but Freddie’s promiscuity and drug taking aren’t ignored so much as softened for a more audience friendly rating.

In the end the film is much like Queen themselves. As one of the characters remarks early on, we’re a band of misfits playing music for misfits, and yet they became much, much greater than the sum of their parts, much like this film.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

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