Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

By the end of this film I had tears streaming down my cheeks, and when the climactic sequence, a recreation of Queen’s iconic Live Aid performance, ended I almost joined in with the onscreen applause.

Basically, I loved this movie, as did WoM, who also got pretty emotional during the viewing, but as she cries over adverts that’s less impressive.

I’ve been a fan of Queen since before I was properly interested in music, having listened to a mate’s cassette of Live Magic and falling in love with it. Over the years I’ve maintained a solid love for their band and their back catalogue which contains several absolute classics. I also grew in appreciation for Freddie Mercury, their legendary lead singer. Mercury, who combined humour, swagger and theatrics on stage left behind some pretty big shoes to fill, but thankfully Rami Malek gives a superb performance here.

bohrap poster

The movie starts and ends at the same point, the Live Aid concert in 1985 where Mercury and Co knocked it out of the park. We get brief glimpses of Mercury as he makes his way to Wembley and then walks from the dressing room to the stage, before the movie jumps back to 1970, where Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara works as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and, according to his father, wastes his time going out going to see bands.

At a gig he approaches Brian May and Roger Taylor (Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy, respectively), who have just lost their lead singer and bassist. After impressing them Freddie joins and adding bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), the band becomes Queen and soon find success.

bohrap queen

While the band go from strength to strength, Freddie struggles to come to terms with his sexuality and disappears into a whirlwind of excess, manipulated by Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), his manager who isolates Mercury and uses booze and drugs to keep him out of it. Freddie leaves Queen to go solo, but struggles with the recording of his solo albums and descends into depression, while Prenter reaps the rewards. Finally, after a visit from an old friend, Mercury begins to pull himself together, reuniting the group with the hopes of performing at Live Aid. However, in the run up to the gig, Prenter goes public with damning criticisms and stories, and Mercury learns that he has AIDS.

Of course, the band performs sensationally and Queen were reunited to continue together until Mercury’s death in 1991. That’s the problem with biopics, you know how the story ends.

The movie does really well in charting the fifteen year period from Mercury joining May and Taylor to their Live Aid performance. There are a few sequences based around specific songs (the eponymous epic, “We Will Rock You”, “Love of my Life” and “Another One Bites the Dust”) and it just highlights how many kickass songs the band had, the recording studio sequences are fun, with bickering band mates and unusual recording sessions providing great entertainment. Praise has to go to the three actors playing the rest of the band as they are all solid support, and capture brief impressions of each member- the fiery Taylor, dry witted May and the likeable Deacon.

One of the elements throughout the film is Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), which may seem unusual for a film about a gay man, but it works. Austin was Mercury’s girlfriend before fame, and the growing distance and Mercury’s concealed homosexuality are key points here, and the scene where they break up is heartbreaking. We see that Mercury does love her, that she is his support and rock, the first person to really believe in and accept him, but there is no sexual aspect by the end. Boynton gives a quiet performance that nonetheless captures her character’s sadness in losing her love and her distress at what he briefly becomes.

The film is really about Mercury’s journey towards some form of self acceptance, and feeling comfortable with himself. The swaggering bravado he shows in the early stages of the movie is clearly a mask, and it’s only when he faces up to who he has become and who he wants to be that he approaches happiness, making peace not only with his family and band mates, but also with himself. The movie ends, despite his AIDS diagnosis, on a positive note, with Mercury having reunited with Queen, rekindled his friendship with Mary and beginning a new romantic relationship.

In every stage of this progression Malek delivers a towering performance. He captures the on screen pomp beautifully, the dramatic poses and campy theatrics that made Mercury such a compelling performer. In fact, I can’t think of a movie which has so perfectly captured a band’s on stage energy, and there are several strong concert sequences, particularly the Live Aid section, which is magnificent.

bohrap liveaid

Off stage he captures the humour and swagger, but there’s always a sense of a hidden fragility behind the pretence, and Malek wonderfully conveys the inner turmoil with subtle changes in expression. He captures the insecurity and loneliness of Mercury, especially as the rest of the band’s lives diverge towards family and he finds himself alone, throwing parties for people he doesn’t really know.

Several times Malek’s performance moved me profoundly, quiet moments throughout that reduced me to tears in places, which is odd for a film which also made me laugh aloud and is inspiring. In the end Mercury stood before the world, boldly saying “This is who I am” and that’s wonderful, a man who forged a place for himself in the nation’s hearts despite growing up in a time when his ethnicity and sexuality meant he would encounter prejudice. Despite this he would become a rock legend and beloved figure.

I know some have said the movie is a bit neat, but it tells the story it wants excellently, in a captivating and moving way. Carrying this film are Malek’s performance, the band’s music and Mercury’s charismatic character.

Like Garth says in Wayne’s World (which gets a nice nod here), Bohemian Rhapsody is a good call.

Verdict: Funny, moving, utterly compelling. Malek is superb. The songs are belters. Film of the year? Probably. 10/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

2 thoughts on “Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

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