As a Brit and a music lover, I am more than comfortable with pronouncing that, without a doubt, Freddie Mercury was (and will continue to be) the greatest frontman of all time. The music of Queen is intrinsically woven in to all of our histories whether you profess to be a fan of the band or not. You only need to watch this heartwarming video to see how their legacy is still affecting the younger generations more than twenty five years after Mercury’s untimely death. I don’t think it was unreasonable to have gone in to the cinema nervous about this one. After all, how can you replicate an unforgettable character who, by his very nature, was one of a kind?
Strangely, that aspect of the film that I feared would be impossible is the thing that it got most right. Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of Queen, with the central focus, as it was in reality, being on the rise to superstardom of lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) from humble beginnings as Farrokh Bulsara to the rock god that we all now remember. As with any kind of biopic, I try to separate my love and nostalgia for a subject matter from the actual quality of the film making, and in this case I find Bohemian Rhapsody to be an incredibly ordinary film that is fortunate enough to be about an extraordinary person.
In terms of story telling, the film is formulaic, a quintessential non-risk taking chronological account of proceedings, which is a shame seeing as the one thing you certainly can associate Queen with is taking risks. The strength of the story and the pull of emotion at vital points is certainly there, but a bad script tries its best to take the sting out of scenes that are well acted across the board. It’s no surprise that the film comes most alive during the many musical set pieces, I truly believe that all humans must be born with the full lyrics to Queen’s greatest hits already in their heads.
Whilst the musical numbers are enjoyable as stand alone sections, one can’t help but feel as though the plot weaving them together is sanitised and a little soulless. It very much feels like a Wikipedia rundown of the band’s history rather than anything more in-depth, anything revelatory or anything that can definitively add to the legend. The film mostly tells us lots of things that we know, and shies away from the more intimate details that would have made for a more poignant and more engrossing biopic, not just of Freddie’s personal life but of the band’s messy relationship too. Ultimately, Bohemian Rhapsody is a film that will entertain you in the moment, but just like any radio edit of a song compared to the extended album version, I feel there is a lot missing that could have made it something special.
As I alluded to at the start of the review, the one thing that Bohemian Rhapsody does get absolutely right is Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. His performance, from voice to body language to unspoken charisma and energy is pretty amazing. There are times where it feels like Malek is carrying the film on his presence and aura alone, and he makes the challenge of portraying a unique legend look easy. Malek is responsible for guiding the audience through roughly fifteen years of history, and we follow him and believe him every step of the way. Possibly an outside contender for a Best Actor Oscar nom? I guess it depends how nostalgic the voters are feeling.
Although there is absolutely no doubt that it is the Rami Malek show, the leading actor is supported well by a secondary cast including Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello as fellow band members Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. The three do a great job of providing a somewhat dull contrast to Malek’s off the wall personality and extravagance, very much, as they did in reality, playing second, third, even fourth fiddle to their enigmatic frontman. Special mention to Gwilym Lee as Brian May, who is so scarily accurate that he might even sneakily give the most authentic portrayal of the entire movie!
Overall, Bohemian Rhapsody feels like a film that is either going to be lapped up by those coming in ready to worship at the altar of Queen, or be found wanting by those coming in more broadly ready to watch a truly great biopic. It is worth seeing for Malek’s star turn and the mostly complete, shot for shot Live Aid performances at the film’s climax, a sequence that does not fail to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. But then again, what does it say about a movie when the best part by miles is a detailed re-enactment of something you’ve seen in all of it’s real life glory a million times before? The legacy of Queen and the everlasting legend of Freddie Mercury are both portions of pop culture that will live on forever, I just wish they could have been given to us here in a better quality picture.