Commentary by Alex Hodges, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor
When I heard that a Queen biopic was in the works for 2018, I was both excited and worried. Having grown up listening to a plethora of different rock albums, Queen’s entire discography being among them, I imagined in my head that the film would be a grandiose display of Queen’s essence, which is to say the true power and exuberance expressed by the British four-piece rock band. Of course, that was until I remembered that it is in fact a biopic, which is a biographical film, about Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), the lead vocalist and pianist in Queen. That did not, by any means, lower my expectations, however. It put me in the mindset that this could be an interesting view into the life of Mercury as the ideas of pursuing passion and spreading love worked vicariously through him. The film was all of that, and more.
Now, when I say more, I am not necessarily saying that the “more” is all good. There are definitely some things about the film that I personally questioned. The thing that caught my attention the most was the pacing, as well as the starting point of the story. It seemed to rush through – or leave out entirely – some of the formative years of Mercury and the band. Not only that, but among the excluded information was anything about Mercury’s childhood. This is a problem to me because it is less of a biography and more of a following of Freddie’s life through his and Queen’s fame. It made for a quality movie theater experience, but I would have appreciated learning about how young Farrokh Bulsara, as a boy of Parsi descent growing up in Zanzibar and India before later moving to Middlesex, England, in his late teens, discovered his talent and came to know and love music. Or perhaps that’s just me.
To give the film some praise, I will say this: it did well in the areas that focused on Mercury’s sexuality and how his relationships affected him as a superstar. I don’t much take to movies that have a focus on “lovey-dovey” relationships, but I think because Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) was portrayed so strongly that it set us, the audience, up for the heartbreak caused by the couple coming to terms with Mercury’s homosexuality, which was one of the more tender and human moments in the film.
Another key strength that this film has up its sleeves is the cast. Malek achieves the seemingly impossible feat of portraying his character well. I think that Malek did so well because he wasn’t simply offering a skillful impersonation, but an imaginative interpretation of Mercury. He spoke softly to emphasize both Mercury’s extra teeth and the emotional effect of being singled out for them, which speaks to his attention to detail. Boynton, who, since her role as Raphina in “Sing Street” back in 2016, has been a favorite of mine, played her quiet, well-meaning portrayal of Austin in a way that made her flow with the story seamlessly. To add to the list of choice actors, Gwylim Lee as Queen’s guitarist, Brian May, was the optimal choice in my opinion. Not only does he give the sort of reserved well-to-do persona that May seemed to have, but with the wig, I couldn’t see a better fit for the role.
Lastly, I was impressed by the consistency of the film, knowing that there was an abrubt change in direction late in the filming process of the movie. Bryan Singer, though receiving all credit for directing, was fired for his regular absence from set. Fox replaced him with Dexter Fletcher. After some research, I found that the Director’s Guild of America rules that a movie must have one director or director-team credit, and Fletcher said that he did not want to be credited. Why he did not, I do not know, but, regardless, there are no apparent changes in the film itself that reflect the switch in direction.
Under Bryan Singer’s direction, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” though not receiving stellar reviews, has grossed almost $150 million worldwide. It would fittingly seem that Queen’s timeless reputation did more to establish an audience for the film than any advocation (or otherwise) by a critic. If you’re a Queen fan, see the movie. I think that it is worth seeing once, if only just to pay homage to one of the greatest bands on Earth.