Bohemian Rhapsody is a visual masterpiece and a humorous, heart-warming memoir of one of Britain’s most iconic rock bands, honouring the legendary Queen. Although somewhat lacklustre in places, Bryan Singer’s regeneration of Freddie Mercury is a feel-good biography that will rock you.
The film begins with Freddie’s early life while he was still known as Farrokh Bulsara, a shy boy of Parsi descent who doesn’t fit in and yearns to ‘break free.’ However, changing his name to Freddie Mercury, the talented teen, played by Rami Malek, gradually builds up his witty repertoire in embracing his inner queen. Following adolescent Mercury-to-be at school, the adaptational scenes of Freddie’s early life are lightly filtered in sepia tones, establishing that the film intends to be an honest story and sets up a sense of nostalgia for the slightly older members of the audience. The film continues to immerse its audience and it is easy to forget that this isn’t the real Freddie Mercury, although the awkward false teeth disrupt continuity as Malek’s jawline is not consistent. However, it is thanks to his overcrowded mouth that he is gifted with such an impressive vocal range. Privileging Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) with this unique musical voice, Freddie enthrones the group as ‘Queen’ and the rest is history.
Malek’s performance as the lead singer is as authentic as his resemblance to the real Mercury and the initial portrayal of him as timid and reclusive offers a more realistic side to the icon that audiences are, for the most part, not familiar with, though of course some aspects are embellished for heightened drama. Although littered with inaccuracies, the film doesn’t get too swept up with showing clichéd ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,’ instead illustrating Freddie’s conflict of identities over time. His father disapproves of his behaviours, habits and tastes; he is slowly realising his sexuality; then fighting to control his vain rockstar persona as well as finally coming to terms with his terminal illness.
However, besides the cinematic white-lies, the film is problematic in addressing Freddie’s sexual orientation since it denies him of his self-identified bisexuality, instead shoehorning him into homosexuality. While Mercury’s sexuality was ambiguous even to his fellow band members, the film offers no possibility or allusion that he could be bisexual. While the film does well to not exaggerate Mercury’s sexual antics, it is damaging in shutting down the identity of bisexuality, especially in that romantic partner Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) very curtly informs Freddie that he is “gay” rather than accepting his fluidity. Bisexuality remains a cornered orientation in society and its media.
If Freddie is denied of his own sexuality, then at least he can overrule his illness. Refusing to play the victim, Freddie hides that he has HIV and the film closes with a re-enactment of Queen’s live performance at the AIDS fundraiser, certainly the climax of the film. Here we are treated to captivating cinematography as the camera sweeps the stage while Malek mimes his heart out. Of course, this is nothing close to a real live Queen concert, but the film does an excellent job of bringing the band back to life by merging their music with the actors’ powerful performances. Even the attention to detail within the outfits enhance the verisimilitude as though Queen truly are performing. The film closes solemnly, stating what happened to Freddie after his diagnosis and final performance, ending just as earnestly as it began.
Perhaps it is impossible to do Queen justice, but the film successfully depicts the lesser-seen sides of Freddie Mercury in an extremely evocative, warming but realistic retelling of ‘the champions.’