Never mind the Parsi/ Indian connection of lead singer that drives Indian fans of Queen gaga, Bryan Singer’s biopic of the band and its star Freddie Mercury — Bohemian Rhapsody — serves up the part of his life that is known and recorded; there is no attempt to go behind the scenes of his volatile life, probably because two former Queen bandmates, Brian May and Roger Taylor, were involved in the making of the film and they probably got in what was absolutely necessary to make it convey their journey, but not enough to ‘rock you.’
Rami Malek, fitted with false teeth to look like Mercury, plays the part with such magnetism, that he owns the screen when he is on, just like Mercury did on stage when he performed with a sexy swagger. As it usually happens, such a meteoric rise comes with personal problems, in the case of Mercury, his homosexuality and promiscuity that led to his death at the age of 45. The film ends on a high, with the exuberant Live Aid benefit concert for Ethiopia in 1985, which is called the greatest live rock performance of all time.
It begins in 1970 London, where art student Farrokh Bulsara, from a traditional Parsi family from Zanzibar and India, moves from being baggage handler to singer with the band Smile, consisting of guitarist May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), and Queen is born — a name with gay connotations, but Mercury is confident of his talent and the band’s ability to appeal to ‘misfits’ like themselves. (An unrecognisable Mike Myers plays the EMI executive who backed Queen.)
Mercury’s tender relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) is portrayed with the right emotional intensity in the film, the woman who remained a life-long friend even after their break-up, and sadly predicted that his sexuality would cause him a lot of problems.
The production and costume design are spot on; the band’s outfits and changing hairstyles are meticulously recreated — after all that flamboyance, the most enduring image of Mercury is the one of him in jeans, white tank and armband.
The music is marvellous, and the great numbers shot with foot-stomping energy, but the drama is somewhat underdeveloped and most of the darkness softened. It is a tribute to Mercury and Queen for fans; others might be left cold, mainly by the rocker clichés that creep into the narrative.