It is no small feat portraying an icon and there is none more iconic than Freddy Mercury. Star Rami Malek (Mr Robot) does not disappoint. Bohemian Rhapsody opens at Live Aid 1985 and the camera tracks Freddy from his trailer to the stage. We don’t see his face but the outfit and physicality are instantly recognisable and it’s a smart move to make us familiar with Malek as Freddy before we see his face. When we do see Mercury working as a baggage handler it is far less jarring and as Mercury’s evolution from Farrokh Bulsara to Freddy Mercury begins there isn’t a moment where Malek falls short. He is Mercury from beginning to end in a way that is almost exhausting to watch but ultimately thrilling as the audience gets a small taste of what it must have felt like to see him perform.
The film was billed as a biopic of Queen and if that is what Brian Singer (director) and Anthony McCarten (screenwriter) were aiming for, then the film fails. It is clearly focused on Mercury with Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) only ever shown in relation to him and fans of them will be sorely disappointed by the little screen time they get. As a biopic for Mercury though, the film succeeds. Many biopics, in an attempt to experiment with structure, end up focusing on one event in the subject’s life and then spend half the film monologuing exposition. Though the structure in Bohemian Rhapsody is nothing new, it’s enjoyable to watch Mercury’s life rather than be told about it. We see brief but pointed scenes at the start of the film that give the viewer an idea of the world that Mercury came from. We see the expectations from his traditional Parsi family and the pain his perceived rejection of them causes. We see the racism he received from his colleagues, audience and even friends.
With Mercury’s ethnicity and sexuality being erased and whitewashed countless times over the years, the representation in the film was hotly debated as trailers came out and seemed to lean more towards a binary representation of Mercury. This is not the case for the film though. Mercury’s rejection of labels is well adhered to. His relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) is handled with care but in his later relationship with Jim Button (Aaron McCusker) though, we definitely could’ve seen more of Button. Unfortunately the film does still lean towards whitewashing in some aspects, as Mercury’s relationship with Button is only shown briefly and all of his other interactions with men are not shown as positive compared to his relationship with Austin. This would’ve been balanced better had we seen more of Button and Mercury together. With the film being produced by Jim Beach, the former manager of Queen and having Brian May and Roger Taylor serve as creative consultants there is definitely a glaring difference in how Mercury’s life is handled compared to many biopics.
It is impossible to talk about the movie without discussing the music. The soundtrack is, of course, phenomenal with every great Queen song included plus some previously unreleased recordings included. Singer doesn’t shy away from the film being a rock movie and instead leans in to that, building up to the Live Aid performance at the end of the film and then just exploding with energy. Malek’s performance here is the highlight of the film and something truly amazing to watch. His range from high energy performances to the touching moments when he shares his diagnosis with loved ones, gives us the beautiful fully rounded portrayal Mercury deserves.