Queen are so gigantic it’s a surprise that a movie about them wasn’t made minutes after Freddie Mercury’s death. I suppose there is a certain life-cycle that massive pop-culture phenomena have to follow before they get a movie – first come the ‘Greatest Hits’ albums, then documentaries, then finally they get the Hollywood biopic treatment.
Bohemian Rhapsody is the last stage for Queen. Or should I say for Freddie Mercury, since the film focuses mainly on the band’s sometimes controversial but always fascinating frontman. There’s ups, there’s downs and there’s drama – it’s all good stuff.
Mercury lived as a gay man when Elton John and George Michael were still heterosexual icons. The fears and internal conflict Freddie had about his sexuality are well addressed, and there’s a lot of emotional impact. Mercury is played by Mr Robot star Raimi Malek, who succeeds in getting you to really connect with Freddie’s struggle. You remain invested in what happens to this wonderful, unique man throughout the film.
The issues with the film come from the not-so-wonderful parts of Queen’s story. Freddie’s internal struggle is covered, but the wider context is not – the film doesn’t show the pure and unadulterated hatred that the homosexual community faced in the 70s and 80s. There’s a reason that Elton John, George Michael and other treasured icons didn’t come out as gay until the late 80s or 90s: it could cost them their jobs, their friends and their careers.
The film also doesn’t address just how outrageous Freddie Mercury’s lifestyle became at the height of his career. A lot of critics, even Raimi Malek himself, have blamed this on “straightwashing” – the notion that the producers, executives and director (Bryan Singer, who made Usual Suspects and all the X-men movies) deliberately downplayed Freddie’s sexuality. I disagree – I would say it’s mostly because of the film’s 12A age rating. The creators of the movie could have fully demonstrated the raunchiness that made Freddie Mercury a groundbreaking figure had they made an 18 rated movie. They chose to make something that’s easier to consume but that perhaps misses important parts of the story.
Issues aside, the film is really very good. Raimi Malek’s acting is superb, and the interplay between the other band members (Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon) is smart and snappy. It feels very well written. However, it also feels very limited. It’s a bit like a ‘Greatest Hits’ album: a lot of flash and bang, but not a huge amount of substance.
By Bryce Arthur