(dir. Bryan Singer) (2018)
If you don’t get a shiver down the spine during the opening scene of Bohemian Rhapsody, as we follow Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) onto the stage at Live Aid, you don’t deserve Freddie, or this terrific film – a goose-pimpling, foot-stomping bio-pic with heart.
Yes, it follows the usual trajectory of ambitious boys putting their all into their music, despite evil managers and uncaring music company execs. Yes, we know the story, and the film may not be entirely historically accurate, but like its namesake song, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Some viewers may be bothered that Malek doesn’t look a bit like Freddie – he lacks the handsomeness, the hardness and – did Farrokh Bulsara have blue eyes? It doesn’t matter, Malek’s singing, miming and – my word – his prancing, do Freddie proud. Everyone else looks like who they are meant to look like, despite some bad wigs. Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Joseph Mazzello (John Deacon), Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Ace Bhatti (Bomi Bulsara) and Meneka Das (Jer Bulsara) are standouts. But we give a special special mention to Allen Leech as Paul Prenter, who brings depth to his thankless role as Mercury’s manipulative and ultimately traitorous partner. The final scene between the two, in the pouring rain, is marvellous. Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin does as good a job as can be expected in an underwritten role.
The music is superbly handled – it stops and starts just as it should. The scenes at the Wembley Live Aid concert in 1985, the concert which brought Queen back from near obscurity, are breathtakingly good.
Singer directs with love and zest. Hearts lift when Brian May comes up with the clapping and stomping for We Will Rock You and when John Deacon stops an argument by playing the opening riff of Another One Bites the Dust. Although the story is, as Sacha Baron Cohen famously said, ‘sanitised’, it is not coy about Freddie’s promiscuity. His visit to an Aids clinic and the symptoms of his final illness are treated with delicacy and pathos.
There are in-jokes. When Mike Myers as Ray Foster (a fictional EMI executive) says that he can’t stand Bohemian Rhapsody (although rhapsody is not a word he can get his mouth around) because it is not the kind of song that head-banging kids will listen to in the car, we immediately see Myers as Wayne in the opening scene of Wayne’s World. If you don’t shed a tear when the screen fades to black and the inevitable titles remind us of how it all ended, then you are not worthy.[P agrees, but adds that (1) Joseph Mazzello has grown up since his role in Shadowlands; and (2) He was annoyed by the fact the other band members made fun of Roger Taylor’s I’m In Love With My Car – what a great song!]