The story of the British rock band Queen and their front man Freddie Mercury gets the Hollywood treatment in the new bio pic Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox, 2018).
Named after one of Queen’s iconic songs, Bohemian Rhapsody is told mostly from the point of view of Freddie Mercury, expertly played by actor Rami Malek in the film. Born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946, Mercury and his family (who are of Parsi descent) moved from India to England when he was a teenager. The film picks up where Mercury meets soon-to-be Queen band members Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon for the first time in the London club scene.
The film then primarily focuses on Mercury’s relationships with the band, with the band’s management and record company, and with his girlfriend Mary Austin. Mercury’s well-known sex-drugs-and rock-and-roll and bi-sexual lifestyle is also clearly addressed, but kept within PG-13 boundaries.
Where the film really soars is with the scenes showing the creative process of the band as they make some of their best loved recordings, including “Bohemian Rhapsody” itself (pictured below).
Where the film really didn’t work for me was in its overly-melodramatic retelling of the events of Mercury’s life, with many of the facts and actual timeline of events being altered and moved for dramatic effect.
For example, the film has the band breaking up and then reuniting right before the 1985 Live Aid concert. In reality, the band never broke up. (Rolling Stone magazine has a great fact checking article about the film here.) To also add drama and gravitas to the Live Aid concert, the film portrays Mercury as receiving his AIDS diagnosis before Live Aid and then revealing the sad news to the band at a rehearsal before the show. This also didn’t happen (Mercury most likely received the diagnosis in 1986 or 1987, long after Live Aid; he died from AIDS-related complications in 1991).
I get it that some kind of artistic license has to be taken in order to condense things into feature film length and format, but the decisions made with the script turned the film into more of a standard bio pic that you might see on TV instead of something more artistic and special that’s worthy of Mercury’s talent, persona, and esteem.
Still, the film’s re-creation of the Live Aid concert which bookends the film is positively electric and is worth the price of admission alone. The filmmakers made a very smart decision by putting one of the band’s all-time great performances as the final thing you see in the film, viewing Mercury and the band at their artistic peak and giving Rami Malek and the rest of the actors and creative team a chance to bring to life again one of the great moments in rock history.
Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language.”
My score: 3 out of 5
And as an added bonus, here’s a clip of Queen performing “Radio Ga Ga” at the actual Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London on July 13, 1985.