It's received so-so reviews, a biopic imbued with a trashy, karaoke lack of quality. But I quite like Bohemian Rhapsody. The star turn by Rami Malek as the iconic Freddie Mercury is on the nose, projecting talent, swagger and vulnerability. His loneliness as his marriage ends is poignant, with the other band members settling down to family life. Malek's Freddie is a world-class talent who has it all, wandering the large empty rooms of his mansion-like abode; all dressed up with nowhere to go. For a film meant to suffer for its shallowness, I felt myself relating to this sensitive rendition of a loveless LGBT existence, and the 24-carat value of having supportive friends.
LGBT+ anxieties are just one of the things the film gets right. There is, of course, the music, it's hard to remember which are chosen but some of my favourites do appear: Hammer to Fall, I Want To Break Free, and Radio Gaga, as well as – of course – the eponymous Bohemian Rhapsody. I didn't know the problems Queen encountered with their record producer (played by Mike Myers), and their refusal to bow down to commercial pressure to ditch the song. A funny, flirtatious radio interview upon the song's release, between Freddie Mercury and the famously over-the-top radio DJ Kenny Everett, is one of the film's priceless jewels, and not without its weight as Freddie's wife watches the flirtation from the side, beginning to realize their relationship is not all that it seems. Other subtly engaging moments are the tensions between Freddie and his conservative, Zoroastrian parents, as Freddie begins to break free and forge his own, unique identity.
With gentle moments, great music and a likeable cast, Bohemian Rhapsody moves between the gears of an engaging, familiar arc, of a band emerging from nowhere, their talismanic singer then lured into solo stardom before realizing he needs them as much as they do him. This coherent narrative, however, is also what troubled me to a degree. The film portrays the band's Live Aid performance in 1985 as both a return from the wilderness and the final glorious moment of Freddie Mercury at his peak, having discovered he's dying from AIDS. Yet a cursory online look at their history reveals that Freddie didn't get the AIDS diagnosis until 1987, two years after Live Aid. I also don't remember Queen being a band in decline before then, with 1984 seeing the release of an album of some of their most famous, iconic work (Radio Gaga, I Want To Break Free, Hammer To Fall), and their subsequent work after Live Aid – in the form of the It's a Kind of Magic album – also being brilliant. The screenwriter and director, then, appear to have sacrificed some veracity for the sake of a coherent, tragic whole. This works in making Freddie Mercury's personal journey a more tightly-packed, cinema-friendly story, but doesn't really reflect the dynamics as they really happened within Queen. Further case in point: Freddie Mercury's sojourn into solo work is depicted in Bohemian Rhapsody as a betrayal to the other band members, but according to the band history online, the drummer Roger Taylor had already made a solo album himself well before any solo work by Freddie. Dramatic resentment by the band is just one of the fictions that helps to drive the simple, clear story, perhaps a bit too simply.
Historical inaccuracies aside, the film delivers memorable high notes, figuratively and literally, with a quirkily likeable band and their intensely private showman singer. In spite of the criticisms this biopic has received, it still glitters just enough with a kind of magic.