Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Aiden Gillen, Allen Leech, Mike Myers, Tom Hollander, Aaron McCusker.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a look at the legendary rock band Queen and in particular its flamboyant frontman Freddie Mercury (played here by Remi Malek, the Emmy award winning star of television series Mr Robot) but it is largely a paint by the numbers biopic. Malek does resemble Mercury at times, and he does capture his aura, his mannerisms and posturing, his charisma and his stage presence. The film follows the spectacular rise of Mercury and Queen, regarded as one of the most successful rock bands of all time, up to their spectacular appearance at the Live Aid concert in 1985.
Written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory Of Everything, etc) and Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, etc), Bohemian Rhapsody does play around with the timeline of events for dramatic purposes and to heighten the emotional impact. The film does tick off on all the highlights of the band’s career, climaxing with their comeback performance at Wembley Stadium in 1985 as part of the Live Aid charity concert before a global television audience of 1.9 billion people. Mercury’s performance is regarded as one of the greatest rock performances of all time.
The film shows how Mercury, who was born Farouk Bulsara and who used to work as a baggage handler at Heathrow, joined the struggling band just as they were starting out on their musical career. He managed to convince the band to sell their crappy old van in order to finance their first record, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. The band recorded their classic A Night At The Opera album, which included their six-minute opus Bohemian Rhapsody, and clashed with record company executive Ray Foster (an unrecogniseable Mike Myers) who said that the song would not be a hit because no radio station would play a six-minute single.
The band was managed by John Reid (played by Aiden Gillen, from The Maze Runner series, etc), who also managed Elton John, until Mercury fired him. The film does explore Mercury’s sexuality and his hedonistic lifestyle, and goes into some detail about his relationship with his fiancé Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton, from Sing Street, etc). There is some time spent exploring his troubled relationship with his personal manager, the manipulative, smarmy and unlikeable Paul Prenter (Allen Leech, from The Imitation Game, etc), who was largely responsible for his descent into drugs and alcohol and temporarily breaking up the band in the early 80s by encouraging Mercury to go solo. In these portions the film does lose some of its impetus and becomes a bit bogged down. But given that Brian May and Roger Taylor are on board as producers and creative consultants this biopic was never really going to dish the dirt or uncover anything too controversial.
Music is a key element of the film and the great rock soundtrack showcases plenty of Queen’s hits, including the title track, the foot stomping anthem We Will Rock You, Another One Bites The Dust, and even Under Pressure gets a brief airing.
This was a troubled production though. Original star Sasha Baron Cohen left after creative differences with May over the direction of the project. The film has credited to director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, etc), although he was fired before the end of production and he was replaced by Dexter Fletcher (the musical Sunshine On Leith, etc), who remains uncredited. Singer uses some visual flourishes throughout the film, particularly when he layers some scathing reviews of Bohemian Rhapsody on the screen. The film is bookended with the iconic Live Aid performance, and the superb climax of the film faithfully recreates that twenty-minute set with the aid of some green screen and digital effects. This impressive sequence is certainly one of the standout scenes and Singer’s regular cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (Superman Returns, etc) does a superb job.
The film is driven by the central performance of Malek, who looks uncannily like Mercury in some scenes and he totally inhabits the role. He captures Mercury’s inner loneliness, his inner conflict and early confusion over his sexuality, but he also captures his unique stage personality and movements and infuses the part with plenty of energy. It is a great performance from the Egyptian-American actor who makes the most of his biggest role to date. However, his prosthetic buck teeth become a bit of a distraction.
But some brilliant casting sees Welsh actor Gwilym Lee (tv series Jamestown, etc) play the band’s founder and lead guitarist Brian May, and he is a dead ringer for the guitarist. Former child star Joseph Mazzello (from The River Wild, etc) plays bassist John Deacon and Ben Hardy (from Only The Brave, etc) plays drummer Roger Taylor. Tom Hollander (from the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, etc) rounds out the ensemble cast as lawyer Jim Beech, who becomes the band’s manager, and he brings some touches of humour to the material.
Bohemian Rhapsody will certainly please and entertain fans of the late Mercury and the band and their music and it serves as a fitting tribute. However, there is a sense that it doesn’t delve deep enough into their history or into Mercury’s sexuality, and it does contain some niggling inaccuracies. But these are minor quibbles with what is generally an entertaining biopic. And did I mention the great soundtrack of Queen hits?