This week I was delighted that Bohemian Rhapsody snagged Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama Motion Picture, (for the fabulous Rami Malek, for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury) and the best Drama Motion Picture. Winning awards is not everything, of course, but I hope it may be the start of a re-balancing in perspective after a certain amount of critical mauling for this film. I’m not going to reiterate them here but check out Screenrant for a sample of poor reviews.
What some reviewers seem to have missed is the humanity, warmth and humour at the heart of the film which has drawn millions of people, myself included, to rewatch the film repeatedly. (Four times at the last count, for me, including the amazing, albeit cheesy, ‘sing-a-long’ karaoke version!) The music, of course, is a huge attraction and my YouTube history is now more full of Queen references than a royal biographer’s, but if the film’s only draw was the music then I’d simply put on Volumes I and II of Queen’s Greatest Hits on repeat. No, there has to be more for me to keep spending my hard-earned cash on watching the film over and over again. At the heart of the film, drawing me in, is Freddie himself, a dazzling, fascinating, complex character.
Some critics condemned the film for not showing Freddie’s flamboyant partying in more detail but this rather misses the point. Freddie’s party persona is a bit like his stage persona – it is simply one facet of the man, the glittering image he chose to show to the world. If I want to know what ‘party’ Freddie was like, I can watch his music videos – the flirtatiousness, the zest for life and raw sex appeal, are all there, for anyone with eyes to see and imagination to fill in the gaps where the film doesn’t go. Where the film chooses to go instead is showing us the shy, intelligent, complex individual who lay behind the confident ‘rock god’ persona. To appreciate how well Rami Malek has captured Freddie’s essence, I recommend watching old footage of Freddie answering interview questions with a wary intensity, on Youtube. Rami really does seem to be channelling his spirit at times.
The first two-thirds of the film conveys a sense of Freddie as an outsider – in his racial identity, culture, background, family life and sexuality. Even within the band, there is a sense, at times, in which they are three and one, rather than four – separated from the others by his different lifestyle and lack of family ties. He often keeps them waiting – but he is always worth waiting for. Yes, at times he can be selfish and unkind; but there is thoughtlessness in how they treat him at times, too.
The Invisible Man
The heartbreaking scenes where we see him alone in the dark in his enormous mansion, with only his cats for company, or alone in the crowd at another wild party arranged by the treacherous Prenter, give way to the triumphant final act where Freddie is no longer alone. We rejoice to see him reunited with the band, accepted by his family, loyally supported by the male love of his life, Jim Hutton, and the female love of his life, Mary Austin. The Live Aid concert not only shows off Queen’s glorious music and magical stagecraft but works to show the integration of the external and internal parts of Freddie’s persona, the glittering image united with the vulnerable human at last.
Who Wants To Live Forever
The poignancy of knowing that this happiness was cut short by his premature death at 45 is, of course, overwhelming and the first time I watched the film I was in tears at the end, as I know so many others have been. Yet my overwhelming feeling in recalling the film was not sorrow at the tragedy of his death, but to feel uplifted in the belief that this extraordinary, wonderful soul found love and joy before the end, and ultimately faced his death without a trace of self-pity.
It’s A Hard Life
Yes, there is a lot of dramatic licence used in the film – I know that Freddie was actually bisexual; that Queen didn’t really break up; that the AIDS diagnosis came after Live Aid; that the relationship with Jim was formed in a totally different way from that shown in the film, etc, but that doesn’t matter. The film is an artistic work, not a documentary, and anyone who is really interested can find the truth for themselves – there are plenty of biographical sources out there. The structure of the film allows for a story of redemption and personal fulfilment which would be lost or confused if the film had shown the real chronology of events. Life is, of course, not a movie, and the average movie-goer is perfectly equipped to tell the difference!
I have simplified the passage of events to show how touched I personally felt by that triumphant final act – especially by Freddie’s embrace from his father – but of course, this is just one aspect of the narrative. Also at the heart of why I keep going back to the film is the warmth and humour in the portrayal of the band as a surrogate family. This is not just Freddie’s story; it is Queen’s story too. Again, there is plenty of simplification and glossing over of reality, but the plot points are chosen to bring out the spirit of the individuals.
Friends Will Be Friends
Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzello bring more than just a striking physical likeness to their roles; they capture the different personalities perfectly – Brian’s good-humoured, slightly gauche, down to earth kindness; Roger’s confident feistiness; Deacon’s quirky sense of humour. Freddie describes them as his family, and that is how they come across; a band of brothers, competitive, argumentative, but ultimately, united by their shared love of music and respect for one another’s work. I hadn’t appreciated, before watching the film, how key each member was to their success. Lastly, I must pay tribute to Brian May’s amazing hairstyle – to go from 1975-1985 and indeed to 2019 without substantially changing, except in colour, deserves an award in its own right!
Heaven For Everyone
So, if you haven’t yet ventured to see Bohemian Rhapsody, do yourself a favour; put aside all preconceptions and just go. I am sure you won’t regret it. You may not love all of it but I’m sure there will be something in the varied humanity on display to catch your interest, even if it’s smirking at Mike Myers’s cameo as Ray Foster, or Freddie’s witty put-down: ‘I pity your wife if you think six minutes is forever!’ And I defy anyone not to start singing along to ‘We are the Champions’ during the Live Aid reenactment, or at the very least, to stamp your feet along to ‘We Will Rock You!’