Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Bohemian Rhapsody.
Bohemian Rhapsody may successfully showcase Queen and their sensational songs, but Freddie Mercury doesn’t get the movie treatment he deserves. Mr. Robot's Rami Malek stars as Freddie, alongside Gwilym Lee as Queen's lead guitarist Brian May. X-Men: Apocalypse’s Angel, Ben Hardy, portrays Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello plays John Deacon. Aiden Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leach and Mike Myers round off Bohemian Rhapsody’s cast as various managers, who witness the band break free of their humble beginnings and attain stardom.
Indeed, there are plenty of positives that come from a cast like this. Each is a highly talented performer, and every one of them truly embodies their respective roles. By the time that the much-discussed Live Aid concert comes around, it’s hard to not believe that they aren’t the real Queen themselves. This is doubly so for Malek, who truly channels the spirit and wit of Freddie Mercury.
Thanks to Queen’s iconic catalog of songs, Bohemian Rhapsody stands as an entertaining visual experience of their musical prowess. But beyond their extraordinary tunes, Bohemian Rhapsody fails to capture what makes these particular musicians the special men that they are. This is to be somewhat expected, given that the film has to wrangle with the legacy of its legendary lead singer; however, the movie also manages to fail Queen’s famous front-man in a myriad of ways.
- This Page: Bohemian Rhapsody Is Too Interested In Queen & Not Freddie Mercury
- Page 2: Sacha Baron Cohen & Queen's Involvement In Bohemian Rhapsody
- Page 3: How Bohemian Rhapsody Compares To Other Biopics & How It Could've Been Better
Bohemian Rhapsody Is Overly Interested In Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody begins with Freddie Mercury’s preparations for the 1985 Live Aid Concert, before it turns back to his modest origins in the early 1970s. Based on this opening, it's assumable that Freddie was to be the movie’s sole focus. In this scenario, Freddie might have served as the audience’s stand-in, as moviegoers would both learn about the music scene and how Mercury fit into that, and to Queen as well. But that’s not the case in Bohemian Rhapsody.
The film quickly rushes to Smile’s first gig together, and then to Queen's sold out stadium performances. From then on, the movie’s interest is upon the unit crafting their songs and performing them. As a musical biopic that’s understandable; the songs are what Queen spent most of their time creating and performing. That’s what they’re most famous for. But there’s such an overriding interest in capturing the spirit of Queen, that Bohemian Rhapsody feels rather impersonal.
This is true even true with Malek’s Mercury, the character whom audiences spend most time with - and this is the heart of Bohemian Rhapsody’s problems. No one denies that the band is comprised of amazingly talented musicians. However, it's safe to say that the band’s crowning jewel is their enigmatic, flamboyant front-man. It’s clear that the filmmakers were aware of just how much sway Freddie holds. The promotional material heavily foregrounds Freddie Mercury, and his life is the main subplot of the film. But Bohemian Rhapsody seems reluctant to fully acknowledge him, or to investigate what inspired or motivated him. Conversely, the film is very quick to point out just how important each musician was to Queen’s success. For example, Brian May gets a whole scene where he explains why he came up with "We Will Rock You".
In short, Bohemian Rhapsody ultimately can’t decide if it wants to be a Queen movie or a Freddie Mercury biopic. The rich yet opposing stories of Mercury, and of Queen, compete for the spotlight and neither get their due. It's obvious that Brian May is a great guitarist, is very intelligent, and is the most measured member of the band. But moviegoers gather very little beyond that. The film never deigns to show his life outside of Queen, so the audience doesn’t know what kind of person he was either. Why did an astrophysicist, a dentist, an electrical engineer, and a Parsi immigrant create such great music together?
Similarly, all the band member's personal issues are skewed towards maintaining the band's legacy. Indeed, this occurs even with Freddie, who discloses his diagnosis to his friends, comes out to his parents, and begins a new relationship all on the same week as their legendary Live Aid performance. This condenses Freddie's personal story, and also overshadows it with the band and their triumph.
How Bohemian Rhapsody Fails Freddie
Freddie Mercury is unique and famous for many reasons. He was a flamboyant performer, but one of the most intensely private stars of his time. Freddie was hugely talented, but he humbly deferred a lot of credit to his band-mates. Additionally, he was known for his acid tongue, but he remained kind and generous – in his own words, "a peach" – to most of the people he met. And much has been made of his heritage and sexuality, neither of which harmed his career in the same way that they would have others. A movie could very well explore any of these qualities in vivid detail.
Yet Bohemian Rhapsody, instead, chooses to merely relay what is already known about Freddie Mercury, rather than finding the human inside the legend, as many other biopics strive to do. He’s the Live Aid performer from start to finish; audiences never see what Freddie failed at, what inspired him, or what changed him. The scenes which develop or solely focus upon his life jostle against Queen’s narrative, meaning that his story – like Queen’s – lacks that thorough, narrative strength. Moreover, a subplot involving Freddie and his disapproving father begins in one of Bohemian Rhapsody’s earliest scenes. But it’s never developed or addressed again until near the movie’s conclusion.
The only reason that many of these scenes hit home as hard as they do is because of Malek’s phenomenal performance. Malek’s strutting and posturing is perfect, and he sells every dramatic moment. The scene where Freddie confesses his orientation to his fiancée is a standout. Malek’s tortured face betrays every one of Freddie’s conflicting thoughts and emotions.
Thankfully, Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t avoid Freddie’s sexuality, but the movie is hardly a triumph of representation either. Freddie shares several intimate moments with Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker). But their six-year relationship is mainly relegated to Bohemian Rhapsody's credits sequence. Most of the film, instead, follows his longtime affiliation with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). This truly was a relationship that was hugely important to Freddie Mercury. But with Austin in the foreground, the other facets of Freddie's sexuality are sidelined.
Moreover, throughout the film, there's something of a disconnect between Queen and Freddie's orientation. When Freddie begins embracing his queerness in Bohemian Rhapsody, he throws an elaborate costumed ball in his mansion. His friends complain that it's "not their scene" and they leave almost right away. Hutton shares no scenes with the band, other than watching from the sidelines at Live Aid. Conversely, Austin frequently meets up with Queen in the vicinity of their gigs. Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t concerned in contextualizing Freddie beyond his legend unless his normative traits, ultimately, relate back to Queen. It's an odd choice, especially when Freddie's queerness is integral to Queen's output and their success. However, perhaps this to be expected, since when Bohemian Rhapsody does try to tackle Freddie's sexuality, it creates a rather dubious subtext.
This is most evident in the film’s depiction of Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). Prenter is an admittedly contentious figure in Queen’s history, namely for his betrayal of Freddie’s secrets to the media. But this openly gay character is almost cartoonishly evil in the way that he orchestrates Freddie’s apparent descent. The real Freddie often discussed how much he enjoyed his hedonistic lifestyle. Contrastingly, Bohemian Rhapsody’s forays into Freddie’s nightlife are portrayed somewhat differently. Though they’re safe and rating-appropriate, they are interspersed across other sequences, capturing a haggard Freddie in partially-lit situations. Instead of the thrills that came with Freddie’s clubbing – such as the smuggling of Princess Diana into clubs – they come across as disconcerting experiences.
Tensions are shown to build within Queen – thanks to Prenter’s increasing influence and these hedonistic scenes. This isn’t to say that tiredness and drug use wouldn’t exacerbate these issues. However, Freddie is the only character who is depicted as partaking in them. He’s, therefore, positioned as the rogue that has been led astray, and the member who is responsible for the band’s breakup. It's an odd choice, considering that for all his occasional hysterics, Freddie was consistently referred to as the band's "great diplomat."
In truth, the band unanimously decided to take a break at this time. Plus, it was a period in which Brian and Roger – and Freddie, too – all attempted solo work. In Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie’s desire to follow Paul and “spread his wings” throws them into turmoil and spawns a frosty silence between the band members. As such, Freddie is left punished by his digression from Queen. When he returns and apologizes to the band, it could be interpreted that he is apologizing for the entirety of his lifestyle by default. Given everything that is known about Freddie Mercury, it's rather doubtful that he would have been so regretful about the way in which he lived his life.