Ah, the power of social media. When I posted a link to a highly negative review of Bohemian Rhapsody recently, the response was unanimous – the review in question is inept, and I would be assured of a good time if I took the trouble to see it for myself. But it was slow-going to begin with, though some of the details in the storyline were of interest, such as Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) (Rami Malek) being born Farrokh Bulsara, in Zanzibar. But the basic narrative arc was something I had seen before – in, for instance, the musical Sunny Afternoon. There is parental disapproval and a vision from a young man and his bandmates to make a success of their music, staying true to their agreed principles even in the face of record company executives telling them that what they have to offer will never sell. Then comes parental denial when success rolls around, followed by an eventual grudging acceptance, and then a hearty one.
A press conference highlights the effects, individually on Mercury and collectively on the band, of the media’s clamour for further particulars on Mercury’s off-stage life. Rather ironically, a considerable amount of film time is spent showing Mercury’s personal life, particularly his relationship and subsequent engagement to a shop worker, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and a later relationship with Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker). Being a biographical account, the bickering that goes on between band members is also shown, though I got the feeling that the film wasn’t telling its audiences everything. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was sanitising actual events (talk about “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”), and it may well be that there were simply some ruthless decisions made with regards to what should be included and what should be left out, in order to avoid having a five-hour motion picture.
But it didn’t quite convince me: all of them, Mercury, lead guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bass guitarist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello), are everlastingly confident that they will hit the big time. Not one time was there ever a scintilla of doubt about anything: really? And then there’s Malek’s enunciation: it’s so unnecessarily exaggerated – Mercury didn’t talk like that! The film builds up to a rendering of the Live Aid show in 1985 at Wembley Stadium (very, very good on the big screen), and then ends abruptly, with a brief postscript about what happened thereafter. It’s as if they couldn’t be bothered dramatizing the rest of the Queen story. Then again, the film does end on a high.
I did enjoy watching the recording sessions in miscellaneous studios, though I have no idea how authentic they were to the actual processes deployed when Queen made their records. But the show rattles along at quite a pace, before stopping at the Live Aid gig and just hovering there, and what is cinematically a decent ending is, plot-wise, a bit of a damp squib. The songs are done well, the narrative less so. Perhaps not quite ‘galileo figaro magnifico’, but an enjoyable experience, even if I wouldn’t be trying to clear space in my calendar for a second viewing.