Bohemian Rhapsody

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stuart Crawford

Bohemian Rhapsody
"Bohemian Rhapsody is as baroque and evocative a beast as its namesake song, thanks almost entirely to Malek's phenomenal performance."

When I was 14 years old I went on holiday to Tenerife with my family. One night the otherwise-unremarkable Las Dalias hotel hosted a Queen tribute band and I pleaded with my parents to go. The band probably wasn't very good but at the time I sat there in that hotel basement and delightedly belted out every single word. I did a presentation on the music of Queen in primary five. I'm a huge fan. I expected to detest this film.

The signs of disaster were all there. The original screenplay purportedly had Freddie dying halfway through the film, with the remainder of the runtime devoted to the continued exploits of Queen and Adam Lambert. Bryan Singer was kicked off the project for being a nuisance, with substitute director Dexter Fletcher being drafted in at the eleventh hour. Rami Malek looks about as much like Freddie Mercury as the singer of a Queen tribute act touring Canary Islands holiday resorts in the mid 90s[1]. And yet …

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And yet. Bohemian Rhapsody is as baroque and evocative a beast as its namesake song, thanks almost entirely to Malek's phenomenal performance. He may look about as much like Freddie as I do, but when you see him move, you can almost believe. The plot itself is pretty formulaic rockstar biopic stuff, which is ironic considering the scenes in which members of the band rail against following record-industry formulae. At times it also feels a little like a box-ticking exercise, seemingly throwing in details from some sort of Freddie Mercury factsheet to fulfil a quota on its journey through the waypoints of Humble Beginnings (airport baggage handler), Early Success (US tour), the Price of Fame (alienation, substance abuse) and Triumph Amidst Tragedy (Freddie may be dying of AIDS, but damn does he go out on a high).

It's an enjoyable journey, though, with the performance scenes being particular highlights. At times a little too on-the-nose (a cut to the miserable-looking record exec who cut the band loose[2] during the lyric "no time for losers" isn't even the most egregious example) but the script is witty enough to keep things bouncing along. There's some muddying of the waters around Freddie's sexuality, but the early reports of straightwashing are mercifully unfounded.

There's a lot of excellent technical work blending archive recordings of Freddie's vocals with Malek's own performance, and the casting of London-based music video production duo Sacred Egg as Second Unit Directors was an inspired choice. A lot of Freddie Mercury's story goes untold here, but you get the broad strokes, and above all you get the impression that the man himself would quite enjoy it. I was almost hoping not to, so I could sign off with "another one bites the dust", but now I'm here under pressure to find a more appropriate killer queen innuendo. Save me.


[1] Mystifyingly, the casting department somehow managed to find an exact duplicate of Bryan May, possibly in a cupboard somewhere. You keep expecting him to whip out a telescope or speak up in defence of badgers.

[2] A nigh-unrecognisable Mike Myers.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2018
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Bohemian Rhapsody packshot
A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen's legendary appearance at the Live Aid concert.

Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Anthony McCarten

Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Aidan Gillen, Gwilym Lee, Mike Myers

Year: 2018

Runtime: 134 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK, US

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