***Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen the film and want to be surprised do not read***
A cinematic telling of Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury’s life with an Oscar worthy performance by Rami Malek ( Emmy winner for Mr. Robot) is sure to please die hard fans while enlightening the naysayers.
This is a chronicle of Queen’s meteoric rise to fame, especially in America where a multitude of rock groups were touring in the 1970’s. What made them so special? Surviving members Brian May and Roger Taylor advised the production and Anthony McCarten’s screenplay weaves quite a spell. Showing us the extremely hard work, surprising lack of confidence, and spirit it takes to pursue this kind of life.
The Bulsara family emmigrated from Zanzibar to India then eventually settled in the United Kingdom. They fled a political uprising that targeted muslims and their strict Zoroastrian faith. Young Freddie Bulsara follows Smile, a club band started by guitarist Brian May, played quite well by Gwilym Lee and drummer Roger Taylor, a very nimble and quite handsome Ben Hardy. The bassist, John Deacon is portrayed by a perfectly understated Joseph Mazzello. Freddie offers his services to the lads who are quite reluctant at the sight of the bucktoothed Parsi immigrant. Then he sings a verse from the Smile song “Doing All Right” which blows them away.
Being Freddie’s vision, he invites his mates to the house where he announces his decision to pursue rock music. His parents, Jer (Meneka Das) and Bomi (Ace Bhatti) are surprised that he has re-christened himself Mercury. His girlfriend, Mary Austin, played beautifully by Lucy Boynton, encourages him to take more risks. His father tells him: “good deeds, good words” is the parsi way. Naturally he cannot understand why his son would turn his back on the education given him to become a pillar of society.
Off they go into the studio to record. Then they meet EMI records executive Ray Foster ( Mike Myers) who is a hardass that hates the campy Freddie. He wants another ditty like “Killer Queen”. He gets the epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” instead. He quips, “nobody likes opera”. A riotous scene that sees our lads beginning to believe in themselves.
There are tender scenes in the film where we can see Freddie’s offstage reality. Especially with Mary, whom he plans to marry. Still too young to face his true nature, he comes out as bisexual, then Mary bluntly tells him he is actually gay. This heartbreak will affect the rest of his life. The ballad, “Love of my Life” was written for her. The paradox of his life—a gay man pining for a straight existence.
The brilliantly shot concert sequences show Freddie translating their studio creations into live highlights while going through changes, especially when he finally shows up in cropped hair and moustache. This clone look was his way of coming out. He trusted audiences to understand his point of view. Extroverted only on stage; introverted otherwise.
By film’s end the fantasy he had been living collides with reality. After attempting to leave Queen behind and falling on his face, Freddie begs forgiveness. The Live Aid concert is looming. His mates are told of his limited future by Freddie himself. His mortality is kept private. The performance at Live Aid is one for the ages. As a band, Queen rekindled the magic they had prior and surged forward to fight to the very end.
Rami Malek as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.