Film Contributor Rhys Lloyd Jones looks into Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of Freddie Mercury, and is left slightly dissappointed…
Everything about Freddie Mercury was iconic. Or to phrase it better (in his own words), everything he did was a kind of magic. His four-octave vocal range, his reinvention of fashion itself, the way he conquered and commanded the stage with such ease, Freddie Mercury was arguably, almost undoubtedly, one of the greatest showmen in history. His flamboyant, arrogant stage persona, coupled with some of the most feel-good, the most tragic and the most vicious songs of the 20th century, would make an arena quiver in anticipation before he even opened his mouth. He and Queen did everything a little different to the norm, with no limitations in what they could do. They redefined music, let alone rock.
And that is what is so crushing about this biopic of Mercury. It has none of that revolutionary spirit or passionate fire he encapsulated onstage. The film plays it safe, never sinking into the tragic areas of Mercury’s life, skimming over the bad and relishing the good. The film plays it fast and loose with history in ways that often feel immoral, such as the bizarre decision to move his AIDS diagnosis forward two years, in order to suit their ending. The film often feels like a tribute to Queen, not a biopic, gleefully leaping from hit song to hit song, with little backbone to its plot.
>However, despite being a ‘by the numbers’ biopic, one thing is undeniable. This is a fun film. Once the first hour has passed, you won’t be able to keep your face straight, or your feet still, as the film acts better as a greatest hits album at a night of karaoke than it does a factual historic.
Easily, the triumph of this film is the lead actor, Rami Malek. To play an icon such as Freddie Mercury is a daunting task, to embody someone so loved by millions would push many actors away. Yet Malek takes on the role with full bluster, stepping into Freddie’s boots in a performance that at times is so uncanny it becomes a little eerie. In scenes when he’s performing on stage, Malek delivers the confidence you’d expect from the late performer, with every movement deliberate, from a swing of the hips to a joyous punch in the air. Malek also shines in scenes off the stage. Mercury was widely known as an introvert in his personal life and Malek gives each line with quiet dignity in Mercury’s complex accent which has been mastered here. Malek is in control of his performance in the same way Mercury was in control of the stage. If he had been given a better script to work with, he would be worthy of nominations in the next award season.
However whilst Mercury is given his time on stage to shine, the other members of Queen are not. Brian May, Rodger Taylor and John Deacon, played by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello respectively, are little more than a backdrop in the film, with each given moments to establish their presence in the band as songwriters (as though producers May and Taylor were more keen to do so), but apart from that, they serve more as exposition, or fodder for Mercury’s banter. The scenes in which the band bickers are funny at first, but it becomes tiresome as the film progresses. Side characters such as Mary Austen, Freddie’s fiancee, played by Lucy Boynton aren’t given the screen time they deserve for the performances they give. Everyone else in this film seems to serve either the glory story of Queen or Freddie’s own personal development, with little dimension given to themselves despite some truly beautiful scenes between Mary and Freddie, which contrast of the rambunctious performances he gives on stage.
What halts the film in being as good as it could be with its talented cast, is the direction and writing. The script often veers into Spinal Tap territory, with lines often sounding as though it is more parody than a biopic. The film is credited to disgraced director Brian Singer, who left the film shortly after allegations of sexual misconduct began to surface midway through production. The film was picked up by Dexter Fletcher, who due to DGA guidelines, cannot be credited. Whether it was Singer or Fletcher, or the mismatch between the two conflicting styles, the direction feels sloppy and lazy, using far too many montages instead of actual story and incredibly strange dutch angles that might make you feel seasick throughout. Whilst the script and direction might be enough to kill the film, Malek and the songs of Queen are enough to rock you, as frivolous as watching a montage of Queen songs, rather than watching a hard-hitting tale of Mercury’s life. Each song is thrilling to see performed on stage and the sequences which show the song being made are also fun to watch. By the end of the film, it seems they realised the musicality was the best part, as each performance becomes longer, culminating in almost the entirety of their iconic 1985 Live Aid performance.
Whilst the performance of Rami Malek bolsters the film, capturing the mannerisms and style of Freddie Mercury perfectly, and despite the truly brilliant collection of songs, Bohemian Rhapsody never dives into what made Queen tick and never explores the man behind the legend that is Mercury in any satisfying manner. In fact the film glorifies Queen in all the ways you’ve heard before, with no real conflict or dilemma. This lack of meat for the audience to chew on may leave you feeling a little dissatisfied as you leave the cinema, though you will no doubt do so with a Queen song stuck in your head. Whilst the film may be a good extended music video, it may be a lot easier to just listen to their albums at home instead.