Whilst a film based on QUEEN was always bound to get attention, Bohemian Rhapsody has attracted the wrong kind of attention ever since it entered pre-production in 2010. Sacha Baron Cohen was set to play Freddie Mercury but left when Brian May disagreed with the way his film would tell the story. Things didn’t improve when now shamed director Bryan Singer took over, as his behaviour on set was apparently so erratic and unprofessional that he ended up being fired, leaving Eddie the Eagle’s Dexter Fletcher to take over the remaining days of shooting and post-production. In the end, whilst Bohemian Rhapsody has some merit, it feels like a missed opportunity.
In the 1970s, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) is living in Britain with his parents. He meets a small band consisting of Brian May (Gwiylen Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and Joseph Deacon (Joseph Mazzello). He joins them right after their lead singer quits and they form a higher profile band called QUEEN and start creating albums, gaining success and fame. As this happens, Freddie must deal with his sexuality, his relationship with wife Mary (Lucy Boyton) and all the issues that come with being the leader of a famous band.
The main issue with this film is the storytelling. The first act is rushed and moves through important events in only slightly more detail than reading a Wikipedia page, with a lot of montages and scenes that end awkwardly. This is a common problem with biopics that squeeze someone’s life story into a film and it is one that persists throughout.
The second and third acts are marginally better due to having some hard-hitting scenes and a bit more focus, but it overall lacks the impact that it should have, especially because of the screenplay’s formulaic structure. It is every standard story about a band’s formation, rise, fall and reconciliation just done with QUEEN and sanitised for a PG-13 audience. You can see a stronger, better film trying to get out, but the final product is safe and mediocre. Overall, the production troubles are far more interesting than the film itself.
What will provoke discussion is the handling of Mercury’s sexuality. For as much as the film wants to be about Mercury’s fearlessness of being Pakistani and Bisexual, the former is only focused on a few times whilst the latter is shown to be a bad thing. His relationship with Mary gets the most screentime and ends when he comes out to her. His flamboyant parties, relationship with manager Paul (Allen Leech) and implied sex with men not only send him down the path of getting AIDS, but also acts as something that gets in the way of his band management. There is an attempt at correcting this with his meeting with eventual boyfriend Jim Hutton (Aaron McClusker), but it is too underdeveloped and lately incorporated to make up for the mishandling of what should have the most important part of Freddie’s character.
The acting is quite good, especially from Rami Malek. His voice and appearance are both distracting to begin with, but he does manage to overcome this and delivers in the dramatic scenes. He is entertaining to watch and has charisma that hopefully he will get the chance to channel in a better film. Lee, Hardy and Mazzello are also pretty good, though they do not have as much chemistry with Malek as they should.
The beautiful cinematography and the period detail give the film a nice, distinct look. But the editing is ultimately the biggest problem. I knew things would be jumbled when the film begins with a completely unnecessary framing device that is only put in for an opening credits sequence. Certain dialogue scenes are strangely cut together, there are the aforementioned storytelling problems and other scenes try to be stylised but end up feeling awkward. The climactic Live Aid performance also goes on for far too long, with an awkward use of CGI people to simulate a giant crowd.
Bohemian Rhapsody is not an outright disaster, but it is one of the weaker biopics in recent memory. The storytelling and weak editing sink what could have a great retelling of an iconic band’s story. The ending tries to get across the uplifting legacy of QUEEN, but you will be left drained and disappointed rather than inspired.