Verdict: Genuine film royalty. Go watch it and have yourselves a real good time.
Farrokh Bulsara aka Freddie Mercury, the child of Parsi immigrants who turned Queen frontman, is famed for his theatrical performances and the unbelievable vocal range afforded to him by his prominent teeth. Mr Robot star Rami Malek portrays him in this triumphant biopic, and let me tell you: he has the range, darling.
Following Freddie from humble roots to his fully flourished flamboyant self, Malek’s transformation is entire and utterly captivating. Capturing every physical and vocal nuance of this larger than life figure, the most impressive thing he does is bring Freddie’s quieter emotions to the forefront.
Roaring success and indulgent dramatics are of course a huge part of the Queen story, yet it’s the love and the loneliness that really give us an insight into who Freddie was.
The rest of the cast do a brilliant job bringing to life the rest of the band members – relative unknowns Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazello are almost indistinguishable from the actual Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon in the real footage of the band performing at the end of the film.
Performances pepper the film, with recording montages crescendoing into tour montages with a particular 70s flair. Everything from the costumes to the hair and Malek’s hypnotic physicality makes it hard to believe these are reconstructions – especially with well known footage like Queen’s first Top of the Pops performance, and the infamous I’ve Got To Break Free music video.
Concerns were raised after the film was announced that it may brush over and whitewash the more controversial or less desirable aspects of Freddie’s life – namely his cultural heritage and his sexuality. While drugs and drink are expected to be part of a rockstar lifestyle, being brown and bi are decidedly not.
To those concerned – you need not be. Freddie’s complicated relationships with his family and culture, with his first love Mary (Lucy Boynton), with his manager Paul (Allen Leech), with his lover Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) – all are present in the film, though perhaps not as much as they might have been. Each of these figures has a vital role to play in Freddie’s life, and both Mary and Jim are given huge emotional importance in the film.
The final thing that the film refuses to ignore: Freddie had AIDS, and that’s what finally killed him. Though the film ends on a triumphantly positive note, you’ll never hear We Are The Champions the same way again – the bittersweet lyrics an anthem for Freddie’s defiance. “I don’t want to be their AIDS poster boy, their cautionary tale,” he spits, and it’s such a powerful moment that our audience broke into spontaneous applause. A true tribute to a complex icon that has no room for patronisation, though it is perhaps simplified somewhat, with clear ‘good’ and ‘evil’ figures in Freddie’s life.
The music, of course, is the backbone of the film. A few notes here and there, a riff, a beat that’s instantly recognisable – followed by a flippant comment that that’ll never be a hit. It’s done with such good humour that it’s impossible not to grin like a maniac, to sing and stomp and clap along.
“It’s an epic poem,” Freddie says of Bohemian Rhapsody, and that’s what makes it an apt title for the film. The epic of Freddie’s life is full of immense joy and sharp sadness, friends and family, betrayal and love lost and found, and beneath it all: music music music.
For me, a quiet moment of acceptance from his father (Ace Bhatti) towards the end is the most powerful moment of the film. Understated and perfect.
Malek is an absolute godsend in this role, and if he doesn’t win the Oscar, the Academy will officially have absolutely zero credibility left.
Bohemian Rhapsody is in cinemas now.