The legend of the band Queen is one that can never be understated. Whether you were around during their inception, or your parents introduced you to their abundance of hits, or you watched Wayne’s World and wanted to experience a car ride like that with your friends, the sounds of Queen are a phenomenon that can never be ignored.
Nowadays their music can often be heard at sporting events across the world and making repeat appearances on your preferred internet station. What draws you in is not just the catchy melodies and lyrics, but the band’s willingness to take risks and experiment. They have an identity that constantly evolves. They certainly transcend whatever genre you choose to put them in.
It is no wonder with all this raw and genuine talent that their lead singer would be Freddie Mercury. He embodies all that is Queen. Chaos and harmony dancing simultaneously in one soul. Shaking the foundation of the status quo and giving us ideas to reflect on and contemplate, while also letting us rock our hearts out. I could say that about any legendary band, but the only thing they all have in common is how unique they really are. So after the decades of well-deserved accolades, awards, and tributes under their belt, who wouldn’t want to see a movie about Queen?
In Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by Bryan Singer, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) is a baggage handler living in England in 1970. On a particularly fateful night travelling to clubs, he stumbles across a band called Smile, composed of Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). Smile just lost their lead singer and Freddie offers his services. They begin a collaboration that yields inspiring results. One of them being an enigmatic entertainer who garners your attention whenever he is on stage. Once John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) joins the group, Queen is now born. Freddie meets Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) along the way and a passionate romance and friendship ensues.
Being impressive in front of small crowds is one thing, but the challenge is reaching a wider audience. Creating an album that can be played on the radio is the best way to achieve that. Soon they get a band manager named John Reid (Aidan Gillen). Their trajectory of stardom is fueled by successful albums and international tours. They argue and debate their songs, but it is only ever for the sake of producing the best music possible. Still the hubris of being so powerfully creative is wanting your voice to be heard without any challenge to your ideas. Freddie certainly has so many ideas, he is almost unhinged by them. One can see why keeping together a band this creatively demanding is no small feat. One could also run the risk of inviting people who seek your favor for their own ulterior motives.
This movie is incredibly entertaining. It takes off after the first five minutes and doesn’t slow down except when absolutely necessary. It’s also, much like the band itself, a whirlwind of a story with so much energy. When the band is performing, they are electric. Every moment is a snapshot of history being made.
The band’s chemistry is a real highlight. Watching Freddie, Brian, Roger, and John discuss music and where to take the band is such a delight that I could have watched hours of it. I’m sure hardcore Queen fans would have loved that too. Maybe Aaron Sorkin can make that version. Instead this film attempts to squeeze both the life of Queen and Freddie Mercury’s time in it into about just over two hours of screentime. A challenge like that is not without sacrifice and you may lose some emotional punch to the overall narrative, but what stays true is the heart of the characters and especially the heart of Freddie Mercury.
The very first thing I latched onto with this film is Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury. Every facet of this movie relied on Malek nailing this performance and I can safely say he does just that. With every little gesture and facial expression he made, all I could see was Freddie. The scenes where he is on stage and grasping the attention of both the crowd in the movie and in my movie theater is something to behold. Rami Malek had a herculean task to give us a Freddie Mercury we could believe. Not only did he accomplish that feat, but he managed to transport us back to a time some of us weren’t even born. A movie can make that happen with a little set design and some camera magic, but only a really good actor can transport our emotions as well.
I also enjoyed his scenes with Mary Austin and how their friendship evolved over time. Seeing how Freddie’s life transpires through Rami’s eyes is nothing short of a revelation. You feel his anguish to maintain a connection to his friends and family, his struggles to overcome the suppression of his sexual identity, and his courage to face AIDS without remorse. Rami leaves nothing on the table and that is why I admire his skills as an actor.
It can be argued that this film doesn’t delve deep enough into Queen’s history and only serves to carve out the highlights for our viewing pleasure. A surface-level adventure that is only meant to entertain and nothing more. I don’t completely agree with that sentiment, but I understand the criticism; and to that I say this movie is a rock song of emotions that entertains you with comedy, family turmoil, tragedy, and romance.
It shows us briefly the inspiration for Queen’s music and proceeds to give us those performances that we yearn to see in person. It caps off that build up of emotion with the concert of all concerts. The adrenaline is raised to astronomical levels and stays there until the last note fades from the speakers. It finishes so strong, you don’t want for anything more.
Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t a perfect film, but it is a remarkable one. Rami Malek is the star, but I give props to Gwilym Lee, who looks so much like Brian May it’s scary, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzello. They portrayed the other band members so well and gave them a noticeable presence that wasn’t overshadowed by Freddie. In fact they proved why Queen is more than just one man.
I enjoyed Lucy Boynton in every scene she was in. Aidan Gillen is terrific as always. Allen Leech, who plays Paul Prenter, gives a very nuanced performance that adds complexity to Freddie’s already complex life. I recommend seeing this on the biggest screen with the loudest speakers and the most energetic audience. Queen goes on without Freddie Mercury, but his heart and soul is forever a part of them. You can listen to albums or watch an old video on YouTube to remind yourself how special they are; but now you can add to that the distinct pleasure of being able to witness a captivating recreation of their shows and feel even closer to them than ever before.
About Bohemian Rhapsody
Synopsis: A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen’s legendary appearance at the Live Aid (1985) concert.
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Aidan Gillen, Gwilym Lee
Runtime: 2 Hours, 14 Minutes