I came out of this film loving it. Desperate to see it again, in a great mood. I then thought about it for a few seconds and its flaws became readily apparent. For one thing; it’s incredibly safe and un-Queen like. It’s essentially like reading a Wikipedia page of the band. The script is actually quite…….meh. It takes HUGE liberties with the truth. Some of them are forgivable, some are a bit weird and pointless, and some change your entire view of the film. Let’s start with the weird and pointless: there are moments where they play songs they hadn’t written yet. This is a bit weird as this film was heavily overseen by the band, so you’d think they would have known when certain songs were recorded. Then there’s one which is a pretty big deal and soured me on the film when I heard about it. Warning, this contains spoilers.
The film builds up to a big climax of Queen playing Live Aid. A while before the show, Freddy Mercury is diagnosed with AIDS, which is shown as being one of the reasons he did a lot of what he did in the lead up to the show. This is bullshit, he wasn’t diagnosed until years after the show, they changed it to make it more dramatic and tie into a better narrative. That would be a bad mistake from a normal biography, but this film was looked over and advised (heavily) by the surviving members of the band. People will get their opinions about this band from this film, this is how people will learn about this band. And they decided to tell a pretty big lie about it. They lied about their friends’ death for dramatic purposes. Think about that for a second. That’s pretty messed up.
Because of things like this, the film fails to be a good way for people to learn about the band. Once you learn what they got wrong you doubt everything. The trust is broken. Did anything happen in the film like it said it did? Was there ever actually a band called Queen? Is Bohemian Rhapsody actually a song? Who knows? (spoilers, it is). Also, the film seems to tie his sexuality into his drug use/”moral decay”, as though the two are inexorably linked, which is a bit weird.
So, what did it do well? Well, it’s a film about Queen, so obviously the music is superb (even if it does miss out a lot of their best stuff). The performances are also really good. Portraying Freddie Mercury can’t be the easiest role, there’s SO much you have to get down, not just the way he looks, but also the way he moves, the unexplainable charismatic stage presence. You need someone who looks like they can own a stadium full of people in the palm of their hand. Rami Malek does it. Some of the lip-synching is a bit off (and now is a better time than any to mention the ropey CGI at the live aid gig), but other than that he just GETS it. The supporting actors do it too, to the point where the most common sentence I’ve heard about this film is “are you sure that’s not Brian May?” in response to Gwilym Lee’s performance. And there are times when the storytelling is great. The montage of them making Bohemian Rhapsody, in particular, is a real highlight: engaging, interesting, funny, expertly done. It’s just a shame the rest of the film couldn’t match it.
I know I’ve said a lot of negative things about this, but I did truly enjoy it. I don’t need to buy it on DVD or anything, but I am tempted to see it at the cinema again. This is definitely a cinema film, watching it on a tiny screen on a plane it wouldn’t have the same effect, the electrifying Live Aid finale (and trust me, it is electrifying) would become muted by the lack of it being on a big screen. This film could have an incredibly long life at the cinema in the future, if they don’t do yearly sing-along screenings for charity I’ll be amazed.