Bohemian Rhopsody (12A)
So IS this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Bohemian Rhapsody, to quote Queen’s lyrics, is a bit of both.
Soaring stadium anthems, dripping with Seventies nostalgia, still send shivers down the spine. But the dialogue often sounds more like the band’s Wikipedia entry.
This epic biopic (subject of a First Look piece by my colleague Jan Moir on Wednesday) centres on Queen’s lead singer and songwriter, the snake-hippy, lippy, trippy Freddie Mercury, and his rise from misfit to rock god.
Roger Taylor, John Deacon, Freddie Mercury and Brian May are played by Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee in the new film Bohemian Rhapsody
He is uncannily impersonated by Rami Malek, best known for the Mr Robot TV series, who slips into Mercury’s skin and skin-tight jeans and sings his lungs out.
Malek struts around the stage in a beat-by-beat recreation of the Live Aid concert at Wembley in 1985, leading the screaming audience from We Will Rock You to We Are The Champions, via Radio Ga Ga. Looking at the same footage afterwards on YouTube, it’s like Freddie has been cloned — apart from the teeth.
Mercury had a pronounced overbite, which he claimed improved his voice, but poor Malek is landed with fake chompers that distract. You constantly want to call a dentist.
Actually, Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), Queen’s drummer, trained as a dentist, but fortunately never practised, or the world would have lost all those falsetto notes in Bohemian Rhapsody. As he says, ‘Any higher and only dogs will hear this!’ and then adds ‘Who even is Galileo?’
Some of the most fascinating insights come while watching the band rehearse, with Brian May (Gwilym Lee) on guitar and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) on bass. Their studio experiments included tin buckets and microphones swinging on ropes to get that left-right sound.
Malek struts around the stage in a beat-by-beat recreation of the Live Aid concert at Wembley in 1985, leading the screaming audience from We Will Rock You to We Are The Champions
The creation in a country house studio of Bohemian Rhapsody — a six-minute single that EMI record executives were convinced was too long for radio — starts as soap opera, as the band argues, and soars to opera as the final notes are laid down on tape.
‘Roger, there is only room in this band for one hysterical queen,’ Mercury snaps at one point. But, while May, Taylor and Deacon’s involvement in the musical process is shown, their characters are never juicily developed — perhaps because May and Taylor and their manager Jim Beach (Tom Hollander) are executive producers on the film.
Some scenes are uncomfortably wooden as director Bryan Singer (who left the project under a cloud before completion) allows paint-by-numbers dialogue detailing record sales and deals. There’s a patronising assumption that the audience needs everything spelled out, and some of the 134-minute running time could easily have been lost.
But the volatile stream of Mercury running through it holds our interest. His otherworldliness, his peacock preening and his cocky sexuality all come from tangled roots.
The volatile stream of Mercury running through it holds our interest. His otherworldliness, his peacock preening and his cocky sexuality all come from tangled roots
Freddie was born Farrokh Bulsara, to a Parsi Indian family in Zanzibar, who later moved to Middlesex. From the age of eight, he attended a British-style boarding school in India, which perhaps explains his emotional detachment — and why he sounds surprisingly like Prince Charles in the early scenes.
When posh-talking student Mercury meets the members of his future band Smile in a car park after a gig, there’s a scene of cringing embarrassment . . . until he starts to sing.
His girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton, underused) also appears at this early stage. She worked in iconic fashion store Biba, and Mercury is encouraged into flared burgundy velvet and floaty scarves. He also falls in love, and writes the song Love Of My Life for her.
Later, he finds a very different kind of passion . . . for men. But details of that are glossed over, as the production hangs desperately on to its 12A certificate.
Every rock life has its clichéd rise and fall and here, druggy darkness descends as Mercury goes off to make two solo albums for a cool $4 million
Mercury’s glam-rock persona was as androgynous as Bowie’s and opened the door to his emergence as a gay icon, as he acquired a short back and sides and his trademark moustache. No expense has been spared on costumes, which range from a white lizard-frilled leather jacket to a harlequin-patterned onesie and bondage-style military wear.
The decadence and excess are hilarious, particularly when Mercury buys a house with one room for each of his many cats. On the whole, though, the film feels most comfortable in a stadium or Madison Square Garden, with massively choreographed set pieces.
Every rock life has its clichéd rise and fall and here, druggy darkness descends as Mercury goes off, accompanied by Svengali-manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), to make two solo albums for a cool $4 million.
Away from the band, Mercury discovers he is HIV positive as the Aids crisis emerges. He died in 1991, aged 45, from Aids-related pneumonia. But the film prefers fantasy to reality at this point and focuses on the uplift of the Live Aid concert, attended by 100,000 fans, rather than Mercury’s grim decline.
In front of the stadium crowd, Freddie suddenly grows in stature as he starts to sing, and the cracks in his voice fall away. Mercury doesn’t just play Wembley — he owns it.