BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY review by Mark Walters – Rami Malek becomes QUEEN’s Freddie Mercury

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY review by Mark Walters – Rami Malek becomes QUEEN’s Freddie Mercury

Click on image to see it full-size.


There are few rock bands who have had more of an impact or been more influential that Queen. They rose to fame in the 1970s, and (thanks perhaps to MTV) became beloved rock gods in the early 1980s, culminating to a truly incredible performance at the Africa benefit concert Live Aid in 1985. Sadly, lead singer Freddie Mercury died in 1991 due to complications from AIDS, but the band’s music has lived on and even won over the hearts of millennials and kids today thanks to TV shows like GLEE and a cappella groups frequently using their songs. The band’s biopic BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY has had an interesting journey, as at one point BORAT star Sacha Baron Cohen was pushing to play Mercury, but the role eventually went to Rami Malek. Bryan Singer was the original director and shot a majority of the film, but thanks to on set conflicts (and perhaps his controversial sexual allegations), he was fired and replaced with Dexter Fletcher, who finished the film and editing. The end result hits theaters this weekend, and is bound to be a highly talked-about production. Some critics have already lambasted the film for its historical inaccuracies, and some of the more blatant timeline shifts it has, though those unfamiliar with Queen’s behind-the-scenes legacy likely will just sit back and enjoy the tunes.

Opening in 1970, we’re introduced to Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek), a young man handling baggage at Heathrow Airport who dreams of a more exciting life, but living in the shadow of his traditional Pakistan-born family and his disapproving father. He meets Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), two struggling musicians playing local bar gigs with their band “Smile” who have just lost their lead singer. He also meets Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), a young woman who finds his look and style fascinating, and he sees great beauty in her as well. Farrokh offers himself as a replacement signer for Brian and Roger, and before long they’re joined by bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and redefine their image. Calling themselves Queen, they hit the recording studio to lay down some tracks, which catches the attention of some big time record producers. Farrokh legally changes his name to “Freddie Mercury”, and the band’s music begins to spread in popularity, making them international megastars. Freddie and Mary get married, but she soon discovers her lover has some secrets which will make their lives difficult. As Queen becomes more and more successful, Freddie’s life starts to spiral out of control.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY can be equal parts fun and frustrating, depending on how picky you are about accuracy and artistic liberties being taken. The real Brian May and Roger Taylor had significant creative input, but didn’t seem to mind shifting major events around in the timeline of the movie’s narrative, some in pretty big ways. This is always a danger with biopics, as sometimes the real story just isn’t quite as interesting, or doesn’t automatically make for the most dramatic storytelling. A few examples of what I’m referring to – John Deacon did not join the band the way it’s shown in the film, and wasn’t even their first bass player; the song “We Will Rock You was composed in 1977 and on the Queen album “News Of The World” that year, but in the movie it’s shown to be created in 1981 and premiered at Madison Square Garden during a concert; in the movie Freddie is shown to be diagnosed with AIDS and reveals it to the band just before their 1985 performance at Live Aid, but in real life it’s said that Mercury likely didn’t know about having AIDS until 1987, and didn’t tell the band until a few years later. Again, some of these liberties are done for dramatic effect, such as the AIDS reveal, as it makes the Live Aid performance (in the film) a more dramatic and important event. There are even characters in the movie, such as an EMI record producer played by Mike Myers, who are actually a conglomerate of several people the band dealt with, but it makes it easier for the audience when those personalities are rolled into one easy to follow character.

Factual inconsistencies aside, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is still a fairly entertaining experience, and is absolutely a showcase for lead actor Rami Malek, who somehow manages to embody Freddie Mercury quite well despite not really looking much like him or even having a similar height and body type… yet it doesn’t matter, as he’s so good with his sincere performance that you become entranced with his portrayal. He finds a very honest humanity in playing Freddie, and we can see how this man went from humble beginnings as a flamboyant misunderstood personality, to a ego-driven superstar that had so much talent he wasn’t sure how to control himself, until it was too late. The filmmakers also do a great job of blending Malek’s performance with real vocals of Mercury and amazing Mercury sound-alike Marc Martel, to where you almost forget what you’re seeing on screen isn’t actually Rami singing. And it’s not just Malek who excels, the other on screen Queen band members are played perfectly by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzello, all of which bring strong presence to their respective roles. Sure, the movie is mostly Freddie’s story, but it’s also the story of Queen, and all four of the principal actors do a tremendous job of making the band interesting to where it’s not just focused on Mercury for a few hours… and rightfully so, as Queen was a truly collaborative band, and while Freddie was an incredible presence in real life, everyone in the band is extremely talented and interesting in their own way.

Lucy Boynton is also great as Freddie’s love interest for the first half of the film, a character who ultimately must endure the truth about her lover, and still stand by him and support his professional choices. There was some anger within the LGBTQ community since the reveal that Mercury (in the film) calls himself “bi-sexual”, as they say that’s a huge disservice to the gay community and Freddie’s legacy… well, I’m here to tell you, while that line is in there, it’s immediately followed by Mary Austin telling him “Freddie… you’re GAY”, and then saying she’s known for a while. And from that moment forward, the movie does not shy away from Mercury being a gay man at all, in fact showing more than you might expect in a PG-13 film just to make sure that side of his life isn’t overshadowed. To put it simply, the outrage was premature, as the movie doesn’t shy away from the truth, quite the opposite actually.

As great as the performances are, there are some significant shortcomings to the film, particularly in the typical Bryan Singer running time, which like many of his films feels needlessly long at times and frustratingly short in others. The pacing is odd in places, and certain scenes just don’t play well, such as the Mike Myers bits that feel like stunt casting with shoddy make up and forced jokes… those scenes really took me out of the film, and while I get why they chose to include him, it would have been better had that role been an unknown actor, or just cut entirely. Aiden Gillen is okay but used too sparingly as the agent who signs Queen, Allen Leech is quite effective as Freddie’s manipulative handler, and Tom Hollander is rather good as the band’s lawyer who seems to be one of the best voices of reason throughout their journey. One of the more frustrating aspects of the film is how it rushes through the concert scenes, which are areas audiences will likely want to last longer, but this may have been done on purpose to give punch to the big Live Aid performance at the end of the film… and man oh man, is that sequence effective. It’s so well done you’ll feel like you’re there in 1985 watching them on stage, and with (I believe) one minor song omission, it’s pretty much dead on in its recreation of the real performance. I highly suggest going to YouTube and watching the real Live Aid performance in full so you see just how perfect it’s been replicated in the movie.

One thing I wish the film had touched upon was Queen’s contributions to American movies of the early 1980s, like FLASH GORDON and HIGHLANDER, especially since that’s how I was introduced to them as a kid, and then of course them being frequently featured on MTV, which is only mentioned briefly. But I’m also sure that BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY could have been an even longer and more involved film, as there were so many aspects to Queen that are either not shown or barely mentioned, such as their “Break Free” video which was actually banned from MTV… there’s something very interesting about the idea of a music television network frequently featuring them, and yet simultaneously censoring them to American audiences, and all for a music video that by today’s standards would seem pretty harmless. To put it simply, if you like the music of Queen, or if you’ve ever been even moderately interested in the life of Freddie Mercury, then you’ll likely enjoy BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY as a movie, just know it’s by no means a definitive account of real life events… that said, it’s probably a more interesting and upbeat look at one of the greatest bands of all time.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY opens November 2, 2018

Be Sociable, Share!

About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.