The story of Mercury and Queen is a “Bohemian Rhapsody”
I am a Queen fan. No, let me restate that. I’m a die-hard Queen fan and have been since the first time I heard “We Are The Champions.”I also consider myself extremely blessed in that I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Queen in concert with my sister on their second to the last date of their Hot Space tour. Yes, I saw Queen in concert with the legendary Freddie Mercury. So, it was with great excitement when I entered the theater to see Bohemian Rhapsody and perhaps learn a few things about Freddie that I still did not know all these years later.
Even before this movie premiered the PR machine was running full steam in getting the word out, and mostly it had to do with the cast. There has been some concern regarding the casting of Rami Malek after the deal with Sacha Baron Cohen fell apart due to creative differences. However I was willing to give Malek a chance simply based on his performance inMr. Robot as well as his supporting comedic role in the sitcom The War at Home. I suspected he had the acting chops (no pun intended) to pull this off, and aside from some physical differences, mostly that he’s not as tall as Freddie, his performance was beyond anything I could have hoped for. Having watched countless documentaries and interviews with Queen (I told you I was a die-hard fan) I became quite familiar with many of Freddie’s ticks when not performing. He had a specific speech pattern and tone to his speaking voice that was quite unique, and it was all there in Malek’s performance. However, it was the aforementioned ticks that Freddie had that Malek captured. Because of Freddie’s teeth he had developed a talent for doing a quick lick of his teeth and lips repeatedly, especially when he was talking. I didn’t expect Malek to go this far with the performance, but in the movie there is one specific scene where Malek’s Freddie is speaking with the woman that he loved more than anyone else, that being Mary Austin (played beautifully by Lucy Boynton), and during the course of the conversation there is a close-up of Malek’s face and he NAILED that specific tick of Freddie’s whenever he spoke.
To say that I was impressed goes way beyond anything resembling an understatement. If there were any weaknesses in Malek’s performance as Freddie it would be during those times when Queen was on stage. Instead of trying to mimic each of Freddie’s moves Malek was paired with a body movement coach in an attempt to help him more organically perform in a style similar to Freddie’s. There were times when he didn’t quite pull it off, but never to the point of being egregiously wrong. On the other hand, when he did get it the moment on the screen was pure magic! However, Malek’s performance wasn’t the only one that got looked at closely, for there are three other members that comprised Queen.
Starting with my favorite member of the band, that being the guitar maestro himself, Brian May, all I can say is that actor Gwilym Lee was the spitting image of Brian. Starting from the earliest days with the band Smile and how Brian looked then, Lee looked the part as if he had stepped out of an old video. Later, as the band had become Queen once Freddie and John Deacon joined, Lee’s performance had me thinking they had digitally lifted Brian out of some old footage and placed in this film. Even with the long curly hair he actually looked like Brian, and his voice and speech pattern was 100% identical to everything that I’ve ever heard Brian say.
Then add that Lee actually knows how to play the guitar, so along with a little coaching from Brian on how he plays the guitar we then ended up seeing someone who could have been a younger clone.
Then there is Joseph Mazzello. I had some mild concerns with him initially because I didn’t think there was anything remotely resembling bass player John Deacon, but he not only ended up looking like John (with all of the different hair styles) he also sounded like John, who has a rather nasally speaking voice (which might account for why John never sang on any of the studio albums). Mazzello clearly listened to recordings of John speaking because he gave a wonderful portrayal to the one member who was mostly considered to be “the quiet one.” Lastly there was Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor. While his drumming looked a tad stiff (each cast member who played a member of Queen did in fact actually study and learned to play their respective instruments) as opposed to how Roger really played at that time, he still came off looking and sounding like Roger in his mannerisms and in the way he spoke. In other words, Malek, Lee, Mazzello, and Hardy easily passed as the royal band.
If there is a downside to this movie it is with the timeline. Again, as a die-hard fan that is extremely familiar with the band’s career, I saw a compression of their history, especially in terms of Freddie’s life and appearance, as well as some of the musical history. There is a scene where they are recording their first album, but the track “Seven Seas Of Rhye” was only an instrumental there, having been fleshed out and given vocals for their second album (which we never see covered in this movie). Then when they start to break big in countries like Japan in the early 70’s there is sequence where they are performing a snippet of “Fat Bottomed Girls,” but that song didn’t come out until 1978 from their Jazz album, so there is a rather odd artistic license being taken here with the band’s history. Then there is Freddie’s appearance. In the 80’s Freddie had developed a rather “gay-icon” look with the shorter hair and thick moustache, but there is a scene in the movie where Brian is putting together the song “We Will Rock You” and Freddie comes in sporting that very look, despite the fact that it would be 3 to 4 years before he adopted that image. Then there is the element of Queen’s controversial management situation (which inspired the tune “Death On Two Legs”). The portrayal of John Reed (masterfully done by Aidan Gillen) is not entirely accurate, especially in terms of the band’s decision to release the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single. The manner of his dismissal as their manager in this movie is also questionable.
Lastly, the movie does tackle the sensitive nature of when Freddie contracted HIV. In an attempt to perhaps give the character more resonance it was decided to address that condition just prior to the band’s Live Aid performance, but there are plenty of indications that Freddie only learned of his HIV status after that legendary appearance. And speaking of Live Aid, it has been reported that the cast studied every beat of Queen’s 20+ minute performance at Live Aid, and I found it disappointing that we only got excerpts of this cast giving that performance. It is my greatest hope that when this film comes out on home video that one of the bonus features will show them performing the entire segment. I do need to address one thing that the movie did get right. Before Queen came onstage at Live Aid their manager at the time, Jim Beach (well played by Tom Hollander), was next to the soundboard for the show’s PA system, and it has been revealed that just before Queen came on that Jim discreetly raised the levels on the soundboard to help give Queen a bigger and louder sound than all of the acts that preceded them. Imagine my delight when that one bit of Queen trivia was actually shown in this film.
Despite the odd narrative and the compression (and in some cases wholesale lifting of events from one time and dropping them into another) of history, these negatives in no way dampened my enjoyment for this film. While the history was not 100% accurate, its spirit was nonetheless represented tastefully to help deliver a very linear story encompassing some of the most significant times in Freddie’s, and the band’s, life. To do a movie that would properly tell the story in a more accurate way might stretch it out to 6 hours, so this type of retelling is not entirely surprising, and in no way did it detract from my enjoyment of the film. The music is magnificent (after all it is Queen), and the cast member’s performances are so amazing that at times I felt like I had been transported back in time, and when the movie got to their Live Aid performance I actually found myself getting all teared up. When they finally got to “We Are The Champions” I was fully crying. There is a line in this movie that hit me stronger than any other. Freddie said, “Now we’re four misfits who don’t belong together, we’re playing for the other misfits. They’re the outcasts, right at the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.” This movie, just as with the band Queen, is for the misfits and outcasts. I have always been an outcast myself. This movie is a love letter to not only the memory of Freddie, but a love letter to those misfits who love Queen. This movie belongs to them.
Bohemian Rhapsody receives 5 out of 5 crowns!!!
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