“The only thing more extraordinary than their music is his story,” is one of the official taglines for Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic that has been years in the making. An indisputable statement it seems, for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. Bohemian Rhapsody opens on Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) preparing for the 1985 Live Aid concert, but quickly shifts back in time to Freddie, then Farrokh Bulsara, working at Heathrow Airport. His job a dead-end, his parents traditional, Freddie sneaks out at night to see bands play at the local pub. One band in particular captures his attention: Smile, with Brian May (Gwilym Lee) on guitar and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) on drums. Freddie introduces himself to the band members on the same night their lead singer quits, auditions on the spot, and he’s in. A bass player, John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), is found and Queen is born.
Freddie soon captures every crowd with his enigmatic presence and from there on it seems to be smooth sailing for the band. They get signed, their tours take them across the world, and they prove their producer wrong by insisting on releasing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as the single for their album A Night at the Opera (1975).
So far, the film echoes any band’s road to success story. The subsequent “crisis” follows familiar patterns as well. Things start to change when Freddie discovers that he’s gay. He delves into a life of partying that estranges him from his bandmates and a break seems imminent. Freddie soon leaves for Munich to work on his solo career, where we see him struggle against the background of drug-infused parties with false friends.
But the parties shy away from turning as wild as they allegedly were in real-life, and Mercury’s extravagant persona is chained to a 12A rating. The gay scene Freddie becomes involved with and ultimately gets lost in is set aside as “the wrong crowd,” from which he emerges hand-clasped asking his bandmates to take him back. The bandmates themselves don’t entirely pop off the screen, although the audience is reminded that they too wrote songs for the band. Freddie’s most meaningful relationship in the film is a heterosexual one, with his former girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), while the partner that was with him for the last years of his life, Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), only gets a few minutes of screen time. The handling of Freddie’s AIDS-diagnosis, albeit short, is poignantly set to the songs Mercury wrote in response to his disease (‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ and ‘The Show Must Go On’), but again, fails to go into his psyche.
‘The Show Must Go On’ is something Brian May and Roger Taylor must have often said during production for Bohemian Rhapsody. It took multiple Freddies, two directors, and eight years to bring the project to the big screen. With Rami Malek, they have found the right Freddie, as he captures Mercury’s onstage presence perfectly, especially during the appropriately lengthy Live Aid scene. It’s his private life and off-stage persona Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t quite seem to dare delve into.
Image: Twentieth Century Fox