Film review: Bohemian Rhapsody
Although a flawed film that encountered some well-documented bumps on its road to the big screen, a searing central performance by Rami Malek makes Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody something of a hit, writes Damon Smith
WHO wants to live forever? Freddie Mercury does in Bryan Singer's crowd-pleasing musical biopic, a greatest hits tribute blessed with a heartbreaking performance from Rami Malek as the charismatic frontman.
Bohemian Rhapsody covers the 15-year period between guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) welcoming Freddie as lead singer of their band Smile, and Queen's triumphant 20-minute set at Live Aid on July 13 1985 at Wembley Stadium.
Anthony McCarten's script glosses over the minutiae of formative years – bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) materialises out of thin air to enrich the group's sound.
In stark contrast, the creation of the title song is a meaty centrepiece, exploring differences within the band's inner circle which includes manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen), lawyer Jim Beach (Tom Hollander) and Freddie's controlling personal manager, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech).
Away from the recording studio, Freddie wrestles with his sexuality while married to lifelong companion Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and locks horns with his father Bomi (Ace Bhatti), who notes: "You can't get anywhere pretending to be someone you're not."
Singer's film is bookended with an adrenaline-pumping recreation of Live Aid, where Queen stole the show with a barnstorming medley including Radio Ga Ga and We Are The Champions. It's a thunderbolts and lightning moment, electrified with slick digital effects and Malek's gesture-perfect showboating.
The script takes a few historical liberties. Mercury was reportedly diagnosed with HIV/Aids in 1987 but, in the film, he confides the illness to bandmates two years earlier so there is added poignancy at Wembley Stadium when Malek fixes the camera with a mournful gaze and belts out the title song's lyrics "Too late, my time has come" and "I don't want to die".
The film has also tamed Mercury's hedonistic streak to secure a 12A certificate – one sequence depicts Freddie and Paul walking through a gay club festooned with writhing bodies bathed in red light, another invites us to a well-behaved bacchanalian party.
Malek vanishes into the role. It's a virtuoso turn that demands Academy Awards consideration and tugs heartstrings as Freddie confronts his fragile mortality.
During one animated discussion, the frontman quips: "Roger, there's only room in this band for one hysterical queen."
And therein lies a problem. While the flamboyant lead singer is a beautiful, flawed creature painted in magnificent shades of darkness and light, compatriots Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon are depicted as saints: unstintingly tolerant, polite, understanding and conciliatory.
When figures portrayed on screen are credited as producers, something has to give. In the case of Bohemian Rhapsody, what apparently yields is rich, compelling dimensions to the other men who stoked Queen's fire. They are wallpaper and Freddie is the fabulous, glittering decoration.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (12A, 134 mins). Drama/Romance/Musical. Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Allen Leech, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Ace Bhatti. Director: Bryan Singer
Released: October 24 (UK & Ireland)