We don’t do a lot of movie reviews here at I’m Music Magazine, but the thought to do one on the Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was planted a couple of years ago when I first heard of the planned film. The film was announced in 2010 and initially had Sacha Baron Cohen cast to play the part of Mercury. Cohen dropped out of the project in 2013 citing “creative differences.” Director Bryan Singer, the director of the film, was fired in 2017 with just two weeks left in principle photography. He was replaced by Dexter Fletcher while. Mercury’s role was recast with Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) taking over.
I am really on the fence between loving this this movie for what it is and for wanting it to dig deeper into who Mercury was. Let me start off by saying that I really loved the movie, even if it was a bit sterilized. I loved it to the point that I even got quite emotional, which was totally unexpected, during the movie’s last 30ish minutes which take place on the day of Live Aid. In that last part of the movie, Mercury finally finds and reconnects with Jim Hutton (his real life partner up until his death) who he met at a lavish party earlier in the movie. Hutton was a waiter at the party and he and Mercury have a long chat and there is definitely an attraction there but Hutton tells him to “call me when you like yourself.” He then goes back home and reconnects with his parents and more so his father who didn’t approve of his name changing and career choice. He then headed to Wembley Stadium and waited to take the stage at Live Aid. His longtime friend Mary Austin, “the only friend I’ve got” in Mercury’s own words, was also there to witness an iconic moment that took the world and even the band by surprise. In that closing Live Aid segment, it seemed that Mercury had finally embraced who he was both onstage and off and had finally found the love and happiness that he was so desperately seeking.
There were other great moments in the movie such as the construction of their classic track “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was fun watching them piece it together and do things that weren’t being done at the time in order to create the “epic poem” that Mercury had envisioned. There was a brief scene where Mercury was alone at the piano composing the song and you could feel the emotions coming over him because he knew he had tapped into something special. The next segment was when the band met with (fictitious) EMI Executive Ray Foster. He is roughly based on the real-life EMI Executive Roy Feathertone who was a fan of the band, but also believed that the song would never get played because of its length. Foster refuses to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” and ends up clashing with the band about it. The executive is played by Mike Myers, yes that Mike Myers, and there’s a great “Wayne’s World” reference worked into the movie. Myers explained his accepting the role on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (seen HERE). Foster (Myers) tells the band “What about ‘I’m In Love with My Car? That’s the kind of song teenagers can crank up the volume in their car and bang their heads to. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ will never be that song.”
Another major part of the story deals with Mercury and Mary Austin. He notices a young woman backstage at a club show by the band Smile. Mercury seems to awkwardly search for something to say to her and all he comes up with is “I like your coat.” The two become friends and that friendship blossoms into love. Austin understands Mercury like nobody else does which plays a huge role in his life in many ways. She even figures out that Mercury is gay before he starts to come grasp with it himself. I couldn’t help but wonder if Mercury would have truly become the entertainer that he became if it wouldn’t have been for her belief in him and her encouragement. Sadly, Mercury ends up breaking her heart, yet the two remained very close friends. In real life, Mercury even left his London home to Austin instead of his partner Hutton. Mercury told her “you would have been my wife and it would have been yours anyway.” Mercury was also the godfather of Austin’s oldest son Richard.
Rami Malek did a phenomenal job and to me he didn’t act like Mercury, but more importantly he became Mercury in many ways. His mannerisms were spot on and he made you feel the emotions that he was going through. So much attention is being deservedly given to him, but I also have to give props to the other guys portraying Queen as well. I feel that Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon all did outstanding jobs as well. There were many points in the movie when I really felt like I was watching the actual members of Queen up there on the big screen and not actors portraying them.
Ok, here comes the part that might step on some toes, but being a longtime fan of Queen and especially Mercury, I have to say a few things dealing with Mercury’s sexuality. I have read many reviews that said the movie was “sanitized,” “gayed-down” or “queered down,” and although those aren’t my words of choice I do agree to some point. He lived in a time and era where being gay was considered much more taboo than it is today. Mercury’s sexuality, in my opinion, played a huge part in who he was both personally and creatively. It must have been a huge struggle for him to try and keep that private especially with the more popular that the band kept becoming. In the movie, there was a press conference for their album Hot Space and almost all of the questions were directed towards Mercury concerning his sexuality, no matter how many times May asked to talk about the new music. I wish the film would have explored that struggle deeper and Mercury finally coming to terms with who he was and finding true happiness and love. It’s a weird struggle between wanting it to be explored further, but yet to a certain extent because although it played a huge part in who he was, he was so much more than just that. Sasha Baron Cohen wanted an R rated version of the movie and has stated in many interviews that he wanted it to be raunchier while exploring Mercury’s even further. I’m not sure if we needed a version quite like that, but it would have been interesting to explore it further. I think the emotional aspect of it could have been explored deeper without it being raunchy.
There were quite a few discrepancies in the movie on many levels, but with Brian May and Roger Taylor being directly involved in the movie, I feel as if they were done for a reason. I’m not going to mention all of them, but I will touch on a few. In the movie, John Deacon was the bassist in the band’s first live performance together in 1970, but in real life he was the band’s fourth bassist and didn’t come into the picture until sometime in 1971. The movie leads you to believe that the band broke up and then reunited for Live Aid. In fact, the band had toured in 1984 for their album The Works (which included the song “Radio Gaga”) and even played live dates in 1985 as close as two months prior to Live Aid. To end the movie on a high note with their epic Live Aid performance, I can understand a bit why the timeline with Mercury’s aids revelation being made the way it was. Mercury didn’t find out that he was HIV positive in 1985 and didn’t reveal it to the band during the rehearsals for Live Aid. In actuality, he was diagnosed (according to his partner Hutton) in April of 1987. Mercury’s partner Hutton was not his servant at a party and they actually met in a club. Mercury’s solo album Mr. Bad Guy was actually released three months before Live Aid and after drummer Roger Taylor had already released two solo albums himself. Mercury also didn’t meet Austin on the same night that he approached May and Taylor about being in the band Smile. Austin actually dated May for a brief period and didn’t meet Mercury until he was already the band’s lead singer. I know there are more, but those are just some of the main ones that I found quite interesting.
Overall, I really loved the movie for what it was. It was quite an emotional journey that really hit me harder than I expected it to. Malek did such an amazing job in becoming Mercury and I can’t think of any aspect of his portrayal that I would have changed. I’ve read some reviews that mentioned he should have worn colored contacts because his eye color wasn’t the same as Mercury’s. I had to laugh at that and I understand that the purists want every aspect to be as close to the same as possible, but come on! I am real curious to see what the eventual release of the DVD of the movie might include. I will add, if you don’t already know, that the soundtrack to the movie is also a must have. It includes the first officially released audio versions of their epic Live Aid performance along which are an exclusive release on the soundtrack. Also, there was a reunion of the band Smile for the soundtrack. May and Taylor reunited with Staffell at Abbey Roads Studio to re-record “Doing All Right” for the soundtrack. That session took place almost 50 years after the original recording happened.
By I’m Music Magazine Owner/Editor Johnny Price