Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the cinema and I knew this was a movie I had to see while it was in theatres. As a classic rock blogger, I gotta review this one. Here are my thoughts on Bohemian Rhapsody.

In typical Diversity of Classic Rock fashion, this isn’t going to be a short review just looking at the film, we’ll be looking at the background and facts vs artistic licence in the film. Enjoy!

Warning: Spoilers will be in this blog post, obviously.

Background

I’ve been looking forward to Bohemian Rhapsody for a long time. It was a movie that was years in the making and Queen fans were waiting and waiting. Finally in 2018, after a lot of personnel changes, we have the final product. Here’s a bit about the background.

Back in 2010, the project was announced. Sacha Baron Cohen was to play Freddie Mercury, but left due to disagreements with Brian May and Roger Taylor, who are the music producers for the film. Wallflower bassist John Deacon retired in the 90s and had nothing to do with the biopic. Deaky’s living his best life with the millions he’s made over the years, fair enough. I’d do the same.

Baron Cohen’s approach was going to be more R-rated and really diving into the life of Freddie Mercury rather than Queen as a whole, but May and Taylor had concerns that Baron Cohen’s reputation as a comedian and prankster would be too distracting. May and Taylor’s vision was to make a respectful, family-friendly tribute to Freddie and the band. So Baron Cohen left the project three years later.

A pity, I would have loved to have seen what Sacha Baron Cohen would have come up with. Although, I think Sacha Baron Cohen would have been a bit old to play Freddie Mercury. If this were a movie made in the early or mid 2000s, sure.

So it was back to the drawing board with Ben Whishaw to play Freddie, but he left the project after a few months. In November 2015, screenwriter Anthony McCarten started working on the project, interviewing Brian and Roger, and based on that information, he finished the first draft a few months later. Bryan Singer became the director, but then was replaced by Dexter Fletcher after some erratic behaviour. Only Singer was credited due to Directors Guild of America rules.

In November 2016, we found out who would play Freddie, Egyptian-American actor, Rami Malek. At the time, he didn’t know much about Queen, but as he played Freddie, he became a big fan. He worked hard to get the movements right and often had to do the signature stage moves on the fly.

In autumn 2017, we found out who else would be in the cast: Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Mike Myers as EMI executive Ray Foster, Aaron McCusker as Freddie’s boyfriend Jim Hutton, Aidan Gillen as manager John Reid, and Tom Hollander as manager Jim “Miami” Beach.

Pre-production began in July 2017 in London. An exact replica of the 1985 Live Aid stage was created and brought to an old RAF station. Queen archivist Greg Brooks worked hard to ensure that everything looked as accurate as possible.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Worth the wait?

I tried to stay away from reviews so I could go into the cinema fresh and with an open mind. But of course, it’s hard to filter out everything. Seriously, if someone can make something like Tumblr Saviour but for Facebook, I’d be thrilled. That tool on Tumblr was great for hiding spoilers and stuff I had no interest in.

In short, yes, I think it was worth the wait. A perfect film though? No. It’s no Coal Miner’s Daughter, which I’d say is a good standard for music biopics – a lot of info about the musician before fame and some performance, but not a literal musical. Still, I’d say it was good. Good for casual fans and for the family to watch, but for a classic rock historian or afficionado, this might fall a little bit short.

The plot… and my thoughts

So the movie starts with the 20th Century Fox fanfare, but this isn’t your ordinary run of the mill intro. This one’s played by Queen. Great way to start it off.

The film opens with the behind the scenes of Live Aid, which bookends the film. I like this bookend, and it does make for a family friendly and upbeat film, but for historians, it would be better to have covered the late 80s as well.

Then we fade into Farrokh Bulsara working at Heathrow, handling baggage – his day job (he had others though – like selling shoes, he once sold a pair of boots to Chris Squire, who told him good luck with his band – joke’s on The Fish though, Queen were way bigger than Yes).

While at work, a coworker calls him a racial slur. This movie definitely doesn’t shy away from that and he does get called the same racial slur a few times in the early parts of his career. It gives the audience an understanding why Freddie hid his background, not so much out of shame, but because he wanted to be seen as a singer first.

By night, Farrokh likes to go to gigs. He tells his parents that he’s going out and they’re not very happy with that because they’re a bit conservative. He goes anyways because he’s Freddie Mercury (well, will be) and he can do what he wants. Rock and roll! The band he sees playing are the precursor to Queen, Smile, with Brian May on guitar and Roger Taylor on drums.

Freddie is captivated and wants to chat with the band. He asks the woman who would be his long time friend (and even wife), Mary Austin, where the band are. He compliments her coat and she says thanks, it’s from Biba. He’ll later go to Biba to see Mary and buy some androgynous looking clothes there.

Freddie goes out back and sees Brian and Roger. They tell him that their lead singer, Tim Staffell just left for another band called Humpy Bong so they need a lead singer. Freddie offers and tells them that he can sing. Brian and Roger (a dental school student) don’t take him seriously because of his teeth, but Freddie in the end wows them and he’s now Smile’s lead singer. John Deacon then joins the band.

The band start playing lots of gigs and suddenly their van breaks down. They sell the van and use the money to pay for studio time to make an album. They make an album and get some confused looks from staff. They get a demo tape out of this session.

We also learn that Freddie is a perfectionist and wants to make sure everything is perfect. They get a call one day at Freddie’s parents’ house, on Freddie’s birthday, and they have a meeting. Freddie shows up in really flamboyant clothes and they wow John Reid and he signs them on the spot. Reid promises them a lot of things: tours and appearances on Top of the Pops.

We then go on to see Queen taking America and the world by storm, performing in all these cities. Visually, this was great. I loved how they portrayed the 70s and I think the clothing was all spot on and totally my aesthetic.

Fast forward to 1975 and it’s time to record another album. Queen are not happy with what EMI exec Ray Foster has to say. Foster is all about formulas and Queen are not a band that you can just put in a mould. They love to push the envelope, take chances, and try new things – now that’s what a classic rock band does. Freddie says they’re going to do an album called A Night at the Opera. Foster doesn’t sound really impressed, but reluctantly says to them to go for it.

Queen record “Bohemian Rhapsody” and there’s a lot of fine tuning. Roger is told to sing as high as possible and they have to do the take multiple times. At some points they were running out of tape. Scenes like this make me happy that I live in the digital age, no need to worry about running out of physical space or wasting precious tape or film – and the sound is better now.

Queen come back to Ray Foster and discuss which songs on the album are going to be singles. Freddie fights for his epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Ray is thinking either John’s “You’re My Best Friend” or Roger’s “I’m in Love With My Car” and pooh-poohs “Bohemian Rhapsody” claiming it’s not something people can bop their heads to in the car (Mike Myers referencing his own film Wayne’s World and that iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody” moment) and it’s too long for radio (Definitely not the first long song to be a radio hit. Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” were hits and signature songs).

A DJ interviews Freddie and the DJ plays “Bohemian Rhapsody” since no other station would play it. Then the rest of that story is history. It’s a fan favourite and a concert staple. There’s a montage of the band performing the song live with quotes from critics slating the song superimposed on the screen. Well those critics were wrong. Reminds me, should I make a post on rock epics? Yes! I need to.

Anyway, Freddie is starting to question his sexuality. Being on the road a lot, leaving his wife Mary and his cats at home, he cheats. He comes out to Mary when he’s back from touring. Mary breaks up with him and Freddie goes out with the band’s manager, Paul.

Fast forward to the 80s and the band are rich. Freddie upgrades from a flat to a mansion and the band are not getting along well because of Freddie’s changing demeanour. Freddie’s doing a lot of drugs, drinking a lot, and throwing lavish parties. Brian, Roger, and John are not happy and they break up (although this isn’t really how things actually went down). At a party, Freddie falls in love with Jim Hutton, who would become his long term boyfriend.

The band record Hot Space, but the press conference turns into probing into Freddie’s personal life rather than the album itself. Freddie decides to take a break from the band and works on his solo album. He got a $4 million deal and the rest of the band seem jealous and felt betrayed, like he was selling them out for money.

Freddie moves to Germany and is pretty isolated from the band. Mary, who is now pregnant, shows up to his door and tells him that Queen were offered the chance to play Live Aid. She told Paul, but he didn’t share that with Freddie. Freddie is upset with Paul and breaks up with him. In revenge, Paul outs Freddie on TV in the middle of the AIDS crisis. Freddie goes to the doctor and it turns out he’s HIV positive.

He tells his bandmates the news and gets them back together to play Live Aid (which has a lot of controversies, not going to get into it here because that could be an entire post). Freddie also gets with Jim Hutton and brings him to Live Aid to watch. The performance was a success and Live Aid passed its fundraising goal. Then we fade out from “We Are The Champions” and onto the credits with “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “The Show Must Go On”, both appropriate choices, playing with pictures of Freddie and Queen on the screen.

That’s not true! Artistic licence in the film

I’ll just do a bullet point list for simplicity and readability. Source: IMDB

  • Freddie graduated from art school before 1970, so he would definitely not have been a student when he met Smile.
  • Freddie was in a few bands before Smile/Queen, like Ibex and Sour Milk Sea. So it wasn’t like he came out of nowhere as an incredible singer. He also played in bands while in boarding school in India.
  • Freddie was friends with Tim Staffell and when Staffell left and Smile needed a new lead singer, that’s how he got the job.
  • John Deacon didn’t join the band until 1971, and by that point the band were called Queen.
  • John Reid was actually young (26) when he started managing Queen, but the actor playing him was 49.
  • Queen released their debut album in 1973. I think the film was implying that it was earlier than that.
  • The vocal version of “Seven Seas of Rhye” was not on Queen I. It was released on Queen II.
  • “Fat Bottomed Girls” could not have been performed at any concerts in 1975, because the song was released in 1978.
  • “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” was not released in 1980, but in 1977.
  • Queen didn’t play in Brazil until the early 80s.
  • Rick James’ “Superfreak” was playing at a party Freddie was hosting in 1980. Unless there was a time machine, that song wouldn’t have been playing because it was released the following year.
  • Freddie’s ex-boyfriend, Paul, didn’t out him on TV, but rather he sold the info to The Sun.
  • Roger’s 80s hair is a bit off, it was shorter, not near shoulder length.
  • “I Want to Break Free” was released in 1984, not in the early 80s like the film implies.
  • Queen weren’t really that separated right before Live Aid – they toured in 1982 to support Hot Space and in 1984-1985 to support The Works.
  • Queen were not a last minute addition to Live Aid. Bob Geldof actually announced that Queen were to play Live Aid during a press conference.
  • The band were still individually credited for songwriting on the 1986 album, A Kind Of Magic, but all the songs on The Miracle and Innuendo were credited to the band.
  • Freddie didn’t know he was HIV-positive until after Live Aid.

Final thoughts:

Aesthetically great, but I would have loved to have learnt more about Freddie as a person – especially his life before Queen, rather than see the band performing. A lot of time and emphasis was put on Live Aid, and there were definitely other scenes that could have been longer or had more of an explanation. If I wanted more performance, I would have watched a concert film, but it was still good.

Soundtrack is great and really is a good Queen primer. You want Queen in a nutshell, start with this album and explore all their other work.

Actors all had really good resemblances to the band. I was definitely impressed. Brian May’s hair is majestic.

Of course, a movie isn’t a documentary and it can’t be unabridged. It’s got to appeal to audiences at the end of the day and that means making up stuff for drama and laughs.

Definitely worth seeing in the cinema on the big screen. Now I gotta spend the next while listening to this legendary band.

What I learnt from Bohemian Rhapsody

In Buzzfeed fashion, we’ll tie up loose ends with a funny list. Takeaways and lessons learnt from the movie. No particular order, just having fun with this list.

  1. Queen should just do the 20th Century Fox fanfare from now on.
  2. Compliment someone’s coat and go to the store they work and that’s how you get a girlfriend.
  3. Follow a band for a while and walk up to them and tell them you can sing better than their lead singer and you have a new gig.
  4. Extra teeth give you a better singing range.
  5. Queen are a family.
  6. Queen are not just Freddie Mercury.
  7. John Deacon deserves better – he was the butt of all the jokes and got the crappy box room. #JusticeForJohnDeacon
  8. Don’t throw the coffee machine!
  9. Teamwork is better than doing things alone.
  10. Freddie’s a crazy cat lady, darling.
  11. No one wants to hear a song over 3 minutes.
  12. Songs about being in love with your car are songs that teenagers blast in the car.
  13. Nobody likes opera.
  14. Queen are a super educated rock band.
  15. Don’t do drugs and don’t party too hard (if you haven’t already learnt that from all the VH1 Behind the Music documentaries).
  16. Don’t just dismiss a song because it sounds disco. Disco is known for smooth, funky basslines.
  17. Having crooked teeth gives you character, and you apparently won’t stand out in Britain.
  18. Live Aid raised nothing until Queen started playing.
  19. It was not Freddie’s idea to do drag, it was Roger’s.
  20. That’s Dr Brian May to you!
  21. Music journalists need to stop being so intrusive. Just stick to the music, man!

So that’s my review of Bohemian Rhapsody. Share your thoughts on the movie in the comments section. Have any stories about seeing Queen live, know any fun facts about the band, or did I miss something? Share those too! Until next time!

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