“We’re a family,” says Brian May, Queen’s big-haired guitar hero, in Bohemian Rhapsody. Who would’ve guessed that meant family-friendly? One of Britain’s biggest-ever bands, Queen finally gets a toned-down 12A biopic, which may well come as a surprise to those expecting scenes of hardcore partying the band was famed for in its ’70s heyday. Instead, the guys enjoy tea and cake, celebrating lead singer Freddie Mercury’s birthday at his parents’ house.
The film is similarly tentative about Mercury’s sexuality; there’s the odd montage of him gliding through leather bars, and a few suggestive glances towards men at truck stops. What the film does – and does well – is pay tribute to the singer’s exuberant stage presence. It’s a stupendous performance by Rami Malek, the Mr Robot star capturing Freddie’s harlequin-suited swagger with Oscar-worthy skill.
Directed by Bryan Singer, who was fired in the final weeks of production and replaced by Dexter Fletcher, Bohemian Rhapsody drives towards a defining moment: the band’s triumphant turn at 1985’s Live Aid. But really, it’s a Greatest Hits package – we see drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) recording the operatic ‘Galileo’ lyrics for Bohemian Rhapsody, May (Gwilym Lee) coming up with the stomping anthem We Will Rock You, and bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) propelling Queen into the disco era with that riff for Another One Bites the Dust.
The script by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) crunches the chronology when it comes to personal matters, too; not least Freddie revealing that he has AIDS (which would ultimately lead to his death in 1991) during rehearsals for Live Aid, when in fact he was diagnosed two years later. Likewise, the singer reuniting with partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), then taking him for (more) tea and cake with his parents on the day of Live Aid all smacks of screenwriting fantasy.
Yet, to be fair, McCarten does mine emotion from Mercury’s arc. A former immigrant and Heathrow baggage handler, our hero finds glory on stage; off it, however, he struggles with loneliness and having to hide his sexuality. Freddie’s tender relationship with long-term girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) gives the film its heart, while scenes with his disapproving father (Ace Bhatti), who tries to instil “good thoughts, good words, good deeds” in his son, are touching.
What works less well is Freddie’s relationship with Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), part of his management team, who comes across as the film’s one-dimensional villain. Ditto EMI’s Ray Foster (a heavily disguised Mike Myers), who fails to see the genius in Bohemian Rhapsody. The CGI crowds at Live Aid are another niggle; but when you see Malek strutting his stuff to We Are the Champions, you probably won’t care.
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- Release date: Out now (UK)/November 2, 2018 (US)
- Certificate: 12A (UK)/PG-13 (US)
- Running time: 134 mins