Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Allen Leech, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander.
The Plot: Starting in 1970, the film charts the meteoric rise of rock band Queen to their triumphant comeback at Live Aid in July 1985. When Smile’s lead singer quits, former baggage handler Freddie (Rami Malek) steps in and charms his way into the hearts of Brian (Gwilym Lee), Roger (Ben Hardy) and John (Joseph Mazzello). Freddie’s on-stage energy and passion for music ignites the band and they are reborn as Queen, quickly moving up the charts and gaining fame and fortune in the process. Freddie also charms his way into the heart of Mary (Lucy Boynton) who becomes the love of his life. However, he finds that his attraction to men, particularly Paul (Allen Leech), can’t be ignored. As Freddie becomes as famous as the band itself, he must make crucial decisions about both his professional and personal life…
The Verdict: In a case of art mirroring life, the journey of Queen’s big-screen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was as fraught as eventual disputes between the band itself. With director Bryan Singer having been fired with two weeks of filming left, an uncredited Dexter Fletcher stepped in to complete filming and then the film itself. There was potential here for the end result to be a patchy mess. Thankfully, whatever offscreen troubles don’t seem to have affected the overall result, which is a kind of magic in its own right. The transition between Singer and Fletcher is seamless. With Fletcher helming his own music biopic Rocketman (due in May), he’s adapted to Singer’s style of filmmaking and finished the job with the right balance of triumphant emotion contrasted with a bittersweet tone.
The story does wobble a bit at the start though, as if the film is unsure of itself and trying to find its feet. Freddie is introduced as a catalyst to the band, but Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan’s screenplay doesn’t quite gel these two elements together as smoothly as one would have hoped for. It initially looks like the film is heading in the direction of a Queen’s Greatest Hits package, with some amusing anecdotes thrown in until we get to the good stuff. Their experimentation with the song Bohemian Rhapsody is given a good amount of coverage, with an almost unrecognisable Mike Myers being a nod towards the quirky song’s ultimate revival thanks to a certain scene in Wayne’s World. While these are fun scenes, they don’t add much to the story.
The film find its true voice later on in the depiction of Freddie’s symbiotic relationship with the other band members, as they come to rely on each other. They are all in it together or not at all. The dramatic thrust of the film becomes much more evident – and poignant later on too. Not shying away from Freddie’s sexuality, Singer tackles it with a modern sense of maturity and frankness that is atypical of a studio-produced film. Mary becomes a welcome presence throughout the film, perhaps the one person who knew him best rather than just the string of men he gained notoriety for. Besides being a flamboyant personality and natural performer, Freddie was a passionate soul. This is captured by Malek’s note-perfect performance, less of an impersonation and more of a careful, skilfully choreographed impression.
Singer builds the tone up to its electrifying finale at Live Aid, which might shake the roof off the cinema with its majestic blast of pure genius rock music. The titles song itself encapsulates everything about Queen – experimental, original, crowd-pleasing, game-changing. While the film Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t quite embody all of these qualities and is a little too conventional, it will certainly rock you and leaving you going Radio Ga Ga by the end credits. Not the feared disaster after all.