Whaleoil at the movies: Bohemian Rhapsody

Let?s get one thing straight: I don?t like Queen, and I loathe Bohemian Rhapsody the song. So it surprised Mrs Brady somewhat that I happily agreed to see Bohemian Rhapsody the movie.

But as I said, just because I generally detest Queen doesn?t mean it won?t be a good movie. After all, I don?t like Hitler either, but that doesn?t mean that Downfall isn?t a great movie. Add to that, I really, really don?t like director Brian Singer ? but even Roman Polanski makes undeniably good movies. As it turns out, Bohemian Rhapsody is a good movie. A very good movie.

It is not, of course, a documentary. The film is rife with historical inaccuracies and false portrayals. As a drama loosely based on historical events, it succeeds magnificently. But, it must always be kept in mind that this is a review of a movie, not real life people.

Necessarily, then, most of the real-life events are cut-and-pasted and abbreviated to fit the three-act movie structure and dramatic tensions of a movie. Freddy had been in several bands prior to Smile/Queen, and his integration into the band was much more long-winded than portrayed. Which is far less captivating than the Cinderella moment shown in the film.

Many of the major characters bear only a slender resemblance to the real people, while others are essentially made up, such as an unrecognisable Mike Myers?s portrayal of a fictional curmudgeonly EMI executive (the real person suspected to be the source of Myers?s character was actually a fan of the band, although he did indeed doubt that radio would play the six-minute Bohemian Rhapsody). Probably the most poorly treated character is Jim Hutton, whose relationship with Freddy is barely developed: probably victim of the fact that most of their life together occurred outside the bookends of the Live Aid performance.

As biopics generally do, the film treats its subject as sympathetically as possible, but even so, it is impossible not to notice that film Freddy often treats those closest to him abominably. From girlfriend Mary Austin whom he expects to stay on call as an emotional support to be switched on and off as needed (by him), to the bandmates he double-crosses for a string of zeros on a cheque. In many ways, the Freddy Mercury of the film remained Farrokh Bulsara, the indulged immigrant son shown in the opening scenes swanning in and out of the family home as he pleases (the double-standards of immigrant families are obliquely hinted at by the fact that his sister is never shown outside the home even after the passage of more than a decade).

It is Freddy?s prodigal son arc which provides the emotional heart of the film. Having progressively abused and discarded everyone close to him as he spirals closer into the clutches of svengali Paul Prenter, not only does Freddy?s eventual mea culpa provide the necessary transition into the film?s final act, but his reconciliation with his father is easily the most genuinely moving moment in the entire movie.

At this point, having successfully pulled at the heartstrings, Bohemian Rhapsody effortlessly changes gear to a thundering rock show. The final act of the movie, which recreates (almost) entirely Queen?s legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985, is an astonishing tour-de-force. Queen?s Live Aid set is justifiably ranked among the great performances in rock history, and here it is given a lavish, almost slavishly faithful, reproduction.

On a day of often terrible performances, cause notwithstanding (Led Zeppelin?s reunion performance was so embarrassing that the band has refused any subsequent re-release), Queen quite simply blew everyone else away. As Elton John is rumoured to have said (with a grin) that afternoon: ?You bastards?? The focal point of that astonishing performance was, of course, Freddy Mercury. Here, Rami Malek is frankly amazing as Freddy Mercury the consummate rock?n?roll front-man.

Hang on, though: didn?t I say I don?t like Queen?

That?s true, but as a Scots friend of mine once grumpily conceded, ?Ah fookin? hate Queen ? but Ah know every wun o? their songs!? Queen was an inescapable part of the landscape for anyone who was young between 1975 and 1990. In any case, just as some bands make great records but are terrible live, there are some bands who, no matter what you think of their records, are simply magnificent live. Queen was just one of the great live acts of all time.

Freddy Mercury was one of the world?s greatest showmen, and this heavily fictionalised account of his life will rightly be regarded as one of the great rock biopics.

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