Bohemian Rhapsody movie cast: Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Lucy Boynton, Allen Leech
Bohemian Rhapsody movie director: Bryan Singer
Bohemian Rhapsody movie rating: 2.5 stars
When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, hardly has a more polite group of four crossed our screens. They discuss things sitting down, wear their hair longer than their grudges, and the only four-letter word usually out of their mouths is buck (as in Freddie’s teeth).
This is Queen, anaesthetised for PG-13 rating. Minus the bohemia, and largely minus the rhapsody. Easy come, easy go.
Rami Malek puts in an astonishing bit of work getting Freddie right (especially with those teeth), and makes light work of it, his eyes reflecting the hunger the film never sweats to show. But even he can only do so much telling us what Freddie was about when the film is largely a string of his hit songs strung together. The songs pulsate with The Queen’s infectious energy, but the journey an Indian Parsi immigrant from, first Mumbai and then Zanzibar, would have taken to that stage, is missing. The cardboard family that hovers somewhere deep in the shadows of Freddie’s fame is dusted only occasionally out, and every time it is done, we squirm at their discomfort.
The relationship Freddie had with his bandmates is more comforting — how their landmark song “Bohemian Rhapsody” came about, for example, and was derided for being too long, too operatic, too non-sensical (Mike Myers in a delightful cameo). Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello, talented as they are, are almost too sane voices of reason. As the band comes together, has its falling-outs, goes through a break, and reassembles again, they maintain almost the same equanimity. The incredulity and hurt at being the satellites to Freddie’s rising star lurk (and they do lurk) frustratingly under the surface.
It’s Freddie’s relationship with Mary (Lucy Boynton) that Bohemian Rhapsody captures the best. It’s a relationship that defies explanation. It’s a relationship whose longevity defies explanation. But it’s a relationship that doesn’t need explaining. In the 1970-1980 era that Freddie and Mary met, where identities were more fluid, which knew better than to bracket people into labels, and long, long time away from when labels would be demanded by right, she saw him for what he was, and fell in love.
For dramatic reasons, Bohemian Rhapsody takes several liberties with truth. Most importantly with when he revealed he had AIDS, after giving us almost guilty glimpses of the drugs-and-drinks orgies leading to it (“it’s all Pete’s fault”). In the film, he reveals he is dying just before Queen’s Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, billed as one of the greatest rock performances, in front of one of the biggest audiences at that time. It’s just as well. For while the star would live on for another six years, dying at the young age of 45, the concert is the high point of the film. Replicating Queen’s performance that day down to a T — just note the number of Pepsi glasses on Freddie’s piano — the film brings Freddie’s life to a big rocking finale.
A film on Queen has been a long time coming, having almost gone through another actor as Freddie (Sacha Baron Cohen) and through another director (Dexter Fletcher) for some parts. Hats off to Malek’s Freddie, and it is a matter of debate if Cohen could have put in the work he does into Queen. But could Cohen have brought in that hint of outrageousness that Queen lacks? Got a little high, gone a little low?