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Bohemian Rhapsody (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

Bohemian Rhapsody


Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Dermot Murphy, Aaron McCusker, Meneka Das, Bomi Bulsara, Dickie Beau, Neil Fox-Roberts, Philip Andrew, Matthew Houston, Michelle Duncan and Max Bennett.

Screenplay by Anthony McCarten.

Directed by Bryan Singer.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox. 135 minutes. Rated PG-13.

The rock group Queen – and particularly their front man, the late Freddie Mercury – had a fascinating life. Some of that history is told in this film.

You have to be skeptical any time you run across films which are “based on a true story.” Particularly when two of the producers behind the film – former Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor – have basically spent the last 27 years since Mercury’s too-young death from AIDS trying to keep the cash cow going.

Therefore, Bohemian Rhapsody is a bit of a whitewashed version of the Queen story. May and Taylor do allow for some of Mercury’s legendary excesses to be explored, in a mostly nice way, but even the dark passages of the movie try to shine a light. And, truthfully, it is a very enjoyable filmgoing experience in many ways, featuring a spectacular performance by Rami Malek as Mercury and some truly wonderful musical interludes.

It’s just not necessarily the truth of the Queen story.

Even just on the most basic levels, the movie is often blatantly inaccurate. Simple case in point: Bohemian Rhapsody plays pretty fast and loose with Queen’s musical timeline. For example, the film shows Queen playing their first American tour in 1974, and they are performing the song “Fat Bottomed Girls,” which they would not record until 1978. Conversely, they show the band writing the song “We Will Rock You” in 1980, a full three years after the song had been a smash hit worldwide. There are a few other examples, but those are the most egregious. I even noticed at least one song that wasn’t even Queen’s music (Rick James’ “Super Freak”) that is being played in a party scene which is supposed to be taking place a year before the song was released.

More disturbingly, the film also plays fast and loose with the band’s history. The film totally ignores the fact that Queen’s first two albums, Queen I and Queen II, were barely noticed. It wasn’t until the third album Sheer Heart Attack that they became huge. However, in Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen is a smash success right out of the box. The movie also falsely states that Queen was broken up for years before performing at Live Aid. In fact, they had released the album The Works the year before and had just finished the longest tour in the band’s history less than two months before they performed in Live Aid.

But, okay, this is a biopic, not a documentary. Biopics often fudge the facts for dramatic effect, so I’ll cut Bohemian Rhapsody a little slack.

I’ll cut them a little less slack on the fact that Bohemian Rhapsody is the story of a flamboyantly gay man as told through the eyes of his two married, straight friends. I have no doubt that Brian May and Roger Taylor love and miss Freddie Mercury, but from the evidence of this film, they didn’t always quite understand him, or his problems, or his world. In fairness, they did not write this script, but from everything I have heard they played a huge part in the development of the project.

As much as they respected and needed him, Freddie Mercury was a bit of a cipher to them. And it seems he is to the film. The strain of being a barely-closeted gay man in the 1970s – when the world was much less tolerant – is not strongly delved into. In fact, the most-important relationship in this film he has is with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), the woman he was involved with before he came to terms with his sexuality. And, yes, Mary was very important to him – they stayed friends long after they broke up and he even eventually left half of his estate to her. But, is the movie suggesting that there were no men in his life worth mentioning besides former manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), who is shown to be an evil and controlling sycophant?

It’s probably not the best way to tell the story of Freddie Mercury – to tell the story of Queen – where you try to soft-pedal the front-man’s sexuality. It was a part of his performance, a part of his being, and yes even a part of his band, despite the fact that his bandmates may not have quite gotten that.

Bohemian Rhapsody is trying to tell a down-and-dirty rock and roll tale without so many of the down-and-dirty parts. Therefore, while some parts – particularly the musical performances and Malek’s performance – are very good, in the long run Freddie Mercury deserves a better showcase.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: November 2, 2018.

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