Director: Dexter Fletcher
Writer: Anthony McCarten, Peter Morgan
Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton
A crowd-pleasing bio pic about legendary British rock artist Freddie Mercury feels like the kind of no-brainer film project that should’ve happened years ago but here it is at last.
The journey was arduous. Bohemian Rhapsody was originally announced in 2010 with Sacha Baron Cohen cast as Mercury but he left citing creative differences three years later (I still think about what kind of film that could have been).
After languishing for several years, filming finally begun in September 2017 with Bryan Singer at the helm. He was unceremoniously fired from the project a couple of months later due to clashes with cast and crew, with Dexter Fletcher picking up the reigns and finishing the film.
So after seven years of development hell, two leads, two directors and critically indifferent reviews on opening day, the film has become a box office hit and has secured an unlikely Best Picture nod at the Oscars.
What to make of it all?
Although Bohemian Rhapsody is not a musical, I think the film’s fortunes follow a similar trajectory to 2017’s The Greatest Showman, another recent production that came out to mixed reviews but tremendously positive word of mouth. In the current news and media landscape, there is a strong appetite for light, breezy, feel-good films of this nature. Bohemian Rhapsody does the job when it comes to delivering an energetic rags-to-riches story of an unlikely outsider and it wisely plays out Queen’s catalogue of their biggest hits in their entirety. It gives the people what they came to see.
Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury in a lively and engaging performance that is full of bravado, flamboyance and teeth. I must admit, I’ve never had the level of fandom when it comes to Queen to mentally process just how improbable it was that Mercury, as a young Indian-British Parsi kid known as Farrokh Bulsara, was able to overcome stereotypes about his ethnicity and his unconventional appearance to become a global superstar. It’s an enjoyable yarn to follow and Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t keep you waiting. Not thirty minutes into the film, Mercury and Queen have conquered the United Kingdom and America and are battling poor radio executives who didn’t have the foresight to see that Bohemian Rhapsody would become a worldwide hit.
Bohemian Rhapsody makes light work of Queen’s astronomical rise to the top. The hurdles that the band has to overcome in the film aren’t from external forces, but from dealing with Mercury’s own rapidly expanding ego and questionable influencers who encourage him to leave Queen and pursue an ill-fated solo career. Of course once it goes pear-shaped, Mercury comes to embrace who he truly is and reunites with his former band mates just in time to deliver their legendary performance at Live Aid.
I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody. I think it accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do and is a great showcase of Queen’s greatest hits that will encourage older audiences to revisit their catalogue after the credits roll and hopefully entice a new, younger generation of fans to discover them also.
The film has come under fire from some quarters for its handling of Mercury’s sexuality and his battle with AIDS. I think anyone coming into the film expecting to see that side of Mercury’s life explored in greater detail will certainly be disappointed. Thematically it doesn’t really align with the producer’s vision for Bohemian Rhapsody which is more focused on Mercury’s magnetic charisma and is a celebration of Queen’s biggest ever on-stage performance. There is certainly room for a much different Freddie Mercury film that I would happily watch if someone made the time to make it. I suspect it was probably the film that Sacha Baron Cohen thought he was signing onto.