Bohemian Rhapsody (AU - M/UK - 12A/US - PG-13)

In a Word: Moving

Bohemian Rhapsody

"Queen" (with Rami Malik as Freddie Mercury, facing) on stage during the Live Aid performance at Wembley.

 

"Bohemian Rhapsody is a must-see for any Queen fan. But it is much more than the story of a band and its lead singer. This is a human story, a story of potential, loneliness, friendship and redemption."

It’s not often you come out of a movie with a lump in your throat because of the emotion welling up inside you. 

Bohemian Rhapsody did that for me. The movie itself mirrored the life of Freddie Mercury: tragic, brilliant, desperate and redemptive all at once. 

Produced by Brian May and Roger Taylor, two of the band members, the movie opens with the band about to go on stage for their epic Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium in London in 1985.

We are then taken back to the earliest days of Queen, when Freddie Mercury is introduced to Brian and Roger after seeing them perform as part of another band. Catching up with them afterwards, Mercury quickly makes an impression on the two with his incredible vocal range.

Played brilliantly by Rami Malek, Mercury’s over-the-top charisma and flamboyance are on show from the start. We are introduced to his Indian Parsi family, led by his father who strongly disapproves of his son’s exploration of the world of rock ‘n’ roll. 

Malek was perfectly chosen to play Mercury. Through his performance, you feel like you are in touch with the man himself. From all reports, Mercury was an intensely shy man who became another person on stage. Much to his father’s chagrin, even his name - changed from the original Farrokh Bulsara - triggered accusations of letting down the family.

This is also where we see the very vulnerable side of Mercury. Feeling like an outsider even in his own family, he gets together with the sweet and strong Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). They get married, but it is here, when Queen’s popularity is soaring on tours to the United States and elsewhere, that Freddie’s loneliness is revealed. 

Any story about Freddie Mercury cannot be told without reference to his sexuality. We are given the first hints of his attraction to men when he is tempted to have an anonymous encounter on tour. As the long tours go on and the band hits new heights of stardom, Freddie and Mary’s marriage starts to fracture. Forced to a head when they finally see each other again, Freddie reveals that he thinks he is bisexual. While they both go their separate ways, they remain close friends with a deep love for each other.

Mercury is clearly the central character in this movie, but the other band members are also cast brilliantly, both in appearance and mannerisms. Their bond as friends is like family, and it shows. It is just what Freddie needs as he explores his sexuality with abandon while never really finding the care he needs. In a couple of poignant scenes, he tries desperately to connect with Mary who is in another hotel room across the road. The loneliness of the genius rock star is laid out for all to see in this sad moment. 

While containing some historical inaccuracies, Bohemian Rhapsody is a must-see for any Queen fan. But it is much more than the story of a band and its lead singer. This is a human story, a story of potential, loneliness, friendship and redemption. 

There is an element of the story of the Prodigal Son in this movie (and it is here that some of the historical inaccuracies are of benefit). It often takes a tragedy in our lives to make us turn around. For Freddie it was the horror of accepting he had AIDS.

Having given himself to the stereotypical rock star lifestyle of excess, especially sexually, it is when Freddie is confronted with the despairing news of his HIV positive status that he begins to see what was always there just below the surface. It is here where he gets in touch with what he always wanted: just to be loved and cherished. 

Having isolated himself from the other band members and lied to by a lover who professed to care for him, Freddie attempts to reconcile with the band, and the stage is set for their preparation for Live Aid.

The familial bonds of the band are rekindled - the care having never really gone away - and Freddie develops a relationship with the man who would be with him until his death, Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker).

The life of Freddie Mercury is a tale of excess and essential humanity with all its frailties, loves and tragedies. The last half hour of the movie is a simply brilliant remake of the Live Aid performance, considered to be one of the greatest rock performances of all time. I watched the actual performance on YouTube the night before I saw this movie, and I could have been watching the same thing. Every detail was captured meticulously, from Mercury’s on-stage mannerisms to the words he says between songs.

Queen was a unique band, due in no small part to the incredible persona of Mercury. It is a rare performer indeed who can hold thousands of fans in the palm of their hand (only Bono and Peter Garrett compare in the opinion of this reviewer).

In the end, Mercury’s life ended tragically with the spectre of AIDS. At a time when there was confusion, misunderstanding and terrible stigma around the illness, Mercury’s death shocked the music world. This movie though focuses on Mercury’s life, and it is only at the end, as the credits roll, that details of his passing are given.

I’m still not sure what it was that triggered such emotion for me as I walked out of the cinema, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that Mercury’s was a life taken way too soon, that we are all weak and frail despite the masks we wear, and that even the most brilliant among us still struggle with loneliness. 

Bohemian Rhapsody got me in touch again with the human condition. That, along with some of the most entertaining rock ‘n’ roll you could ever hear, is why I was so touched.