Sunday, January 27, 2019


Freddie Mercury was a superlatively talented and charismatic musician who lived a raucous, dangerous life.  He was a bold artist - his pop videos referenced Njinsky, and Fritz Lang and leather clubs - he gave a white hair band a provocatively queer name - he was both in the closet and out - he's one of the most famous victims of AIDS but only admitted he'd contracted the disease late.   And more than that, Freddie remains fundamentally opaque.  He didn't talk much about his private boarding school childhood in India, hundreds of miles from his parents in Zanzibar. He didn't talk much about how they felt to be transported from wealth and warmth to suburban London, and how he felt as a gay teenager of strict Zoroastrian parents, whose religion forbids homosexuality.  Do we really know why he went solo in the early 80s?  Do we really know why he returned to the band?  Do we know how he felt when gay friends starting dying of AIDS, whether he took precautions or altered his behaviour, or how he felt when he succumbed?

No. And this is not the film to tell us either.  Instead, what we have here is a sanitised, banal, paint by numbers biopic that does no justice to the audacity of its subject, or the interest of his fans. It's all surface. All staged set-up. There's barely a conversation that doesn't show a simplistic version of how some hit song was written. This is the stuff of pantomime villains and white-washed heroes.  Most insultingly, the film portrays Freddie as unaware he was gay until the late 70s, as basically straight laced until led down the path of danger and disease in the 80s by the villlainous parasite Paul Prenter (Allan Leech - DOWNTON ABBEY).  Even when he does come out to his parents in an absurd last minute hook up with Jim Hutton on the DAY OF LIVE AID!!! there's no confrontation or consternation. It's all just tied up nicely with a bow so that the stakes can be at their highest for that concert. Oh yes, and he supposedly also told the band he was dying just before it and was worried his voice wouldn't hold up.

This is all palpable bollocks of course.  And one would've hoped that the surviving members of the band would've been better than settling old scores with the original reviewers of BoRhap, or the original record producer who wouldn't put it out as a single.  One might even have hoped that they would be more honest about their shagging and drinking, let alone Freddie's, rather than just the odd sly comment about Roger Taylor's extra-marital affairs.   And for heaven's sake, could any of this have been done with slightly more subtlety that the leaden dialogue by THE QUEEN's Peter Morgan and Anthony McCarten? Seriously this was little more than an afternoon TV Movie of the week.

The only thing that saves the movie - I'm afraid to say as he's apparently a despicable man - is Bryan Singer's visual styling - particularly an opening dynamic walk through the backstage of Live Aid, and a lovely shot that takes us into the band's tour bus. 

Rami Mallek doesn't act - he does an impersonation. A very good one of Freddie's accent and physical performance.  But he struggles with his prosthetic teeth and an impersonation is NOT a holistic acting performance. That said, Freddie and Queen were just so bloody good, that even seeing an impersonation  inspires a lot of nostalgia and feel-good singalong warmth.  But that doesn't make this by any stretch of the imagination an awards-worthy film.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY has a running time of 134 minutes and is rated PG-13.  It is on global release.

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