On stage, Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury is one of the biggest personalities in rock history between his flamboyant on-stage antics and ability to both get the crowd involved in their performances and feed off of their energy. While his biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was able to accurately portray his infectious on-stage persona, the rest of the film doesn’t hit the mark.
Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) takes on the role of Mercury following some controversy hell during production. Sascha Baron Cohen was initially cast as Mercury before creative differences ultimately caused him to leave while director Bryan Singer was fired with two weeks left in principal photography and replaced by Dexter Fletcher. The Directors Guild of America, who allows just one person to be credited as director, ultimately awarded Singer the director credit while Fletcher received an executive producer credit.
Malek, however, gives the performance of his career portraying Mercury, beginning in his pre-fame career as an airport luggage handler to his larger-than-life ego that ultimately led to tension with his band mates. One focal point of the film is Mercury struggling with his sexuality. He was engaged to Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and the two genuinely love and care for each other, but she breaks off their engagement when she confronts him about who he really is.
Despite their breakup, Mercury still shows some controlling behavior with her. He buys her a house next door to his and has her look through her window at him when he calls, is miffed when she does not arrive to one of his parties (even though parties aren’t her thing) and is clearly upset when she brings her new boyfriend to the U.S. for one of his shows. She is, however, the one person he trusts the most, as the film shows and she is even his muse.
The hard part to believe in the film, however, is Mercury’s behavior when there isn’t an audience in front of him. Mercury was known to be shy and reclusive in person, the polar opposite of his outgoing presence on stage. Despite this, Mercury hosts parties where he is the center of attention, especially when he is in Munich recording his solo albums as he seems to have parties on a nightly basis, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind or carry his flamboyant attitude to his band mates or executives.
While Freddie Mercury is the most iconic member of Queen (and, to be fair, it’s rare when the band’s lead singer isn’t the most recognizable member), the film focuses solely on Mercury, providing little-to-no backstory for the rest of the band, guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello). Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t a Queen biopic, it’s a Freddy Mercury biopic, and one that falls flat by reducing Mercury to a flamboyant man who struggles with his sexuality.
If there is one aspect the film was smash success in, it was showing the band’s creative process and how they truly operated as a family. To distance themselves from any distraction while recording A Night at the Opera, they used a farmhouse as a recording studio. When writing and recording the band’s iconic song, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Mercury channeled his inner Stanley Kubrick, constantly having Taylor re-record his lines until he was able to hit the notes Mercury was looking for. The band were content with making “Bohemian Rhapsody” their lead single, something label executive Ray Foster refused to agree to due to the track’s six-minute length and even when Mercury was offered $4 million solo deal, he initially declined it because it would have a negative impact with his band mates.
Of course, the use of music in a biopic about a band is spot on. Singer (or Fletcher) was able to effectively use Queen’s songs to show the band’s progression through the years and do so in near chronological order.
For those who love Queen’s music, Bohemian Rhapsody provide’s every song you want to hear, many of which with a unique backstory to it’s creation, but for those expecting more depth behind the band or even Mercury himself, you’re going to leave disappointed.