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August 4, 2020

Bohemian Rhapsody highlights the genius of Queen

By CATE TURNER | November 8, 2018

Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0 Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury in the newly released Queen biopic.

I went to the Senator Theatre in Baltimore’s Belvedere Square on Friday, Nov. 2 to watch Bohemian Rhapsody, the recent musical biopic of the epically famous rock band Queen. The film, as expected, focused on the most well-known aspect of the band: the incredible, exuberant and creative life and mind of the lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Rami Malek, most famous for his lead role in the TV show Mr. Robot, portrayed Mercury to well-deserved critical praise. Malek gave an absolutely compelling performance as Mercury, whose complicated life intersected inevitably with his musical genius in Queen. 

But, luckily, the film did not focus on only Mercury. The rest of the band — Brian May, the lead guitarist; Roger Taylor, the drummer; and John Deacon, the bassist — played just as large a role in the film as they did in the band’s real-life progression. 

The film tracked Queen from their humble beginnings playing at English pubs and culminated in their wildly famous Live-Aid performance at London’s Wembley Stadium. Bohemian Rhapsody’s plot connected the creation of the band’s many hit songs to both Mercury’s emotionally turbulent personal life and the rocky relationship between the members.

Director Bryan Singer zeroed in specifically on the creation of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song that propelled the band into stardom despite receiving mixed critical success at the time of its release. Queen’s creation of the song was depicted in a long scene filled with humor, frustration and, of course, musical genius. The making of “Bohemian Rhapsody” both highlighted Mercury’s unimaginable creativity throughout his composition of the song and established a lovely camaraderie among the band. The film also focused on the creation of “Another One Bites the Dust,” a song that brought the band back to harmony after some internal disputes, and “We Will Rock You,” during which Queen realized how special it could be to interact with their audience (by leading them in the “stomp, clap” section of the song). 

These parts of the film appealed directly to the fans, many of them lifelong, that were watching in the theatre. It was a captivating experience to watch the inception of some of the best and most famous songs not only in Queen’s discography, but also in the entire history of rock music. While some of these moments were definitely dramatized, it still felt special to be seeing even a fictionalized version of the genius behind Queen. In addition, remastered versions of Queen’s actual songs played during the performance scenes. I was extremely grateful that the producers didn’t choose to release and use a soundtrack that contained covers of Queen’s hits, covered by people who simply sounded like the members of the band. Rami Malek was also super convincing when lip-syncing Mercury’s voice, so much so that I thought Malek was just really good at impersonating people for the first couple of seconds of his first performance.

Scattered between these music-focused moments was Mercury’s famously extravagant yet lonely life: his early engagement with Mary Austin, who was portrayed as one of Mercury’s steadiest support systems even after he came out as bisexual; his increasingly difficult time maintaining a good relationship with the rest of his band members; and his diagnosis of HIV/AIDS that led to his death. Malek portrayed Mercury’s ever-changing mental state almost perfectly — he captured the manic creativity and uniqueness during the beginning of Queen’s career; the horrible abandonment and loneliness Mercury felt after Queen temporarily broke up; and his grief after his diagnosis that was eventually overcome by support from his friends and his long-term relationship with boyfriend, Jim Hutton. Perhaps most affecting was the Live-Aid performance scene, during which Mercury and his bandmates knew of his AIDS diagnosis, but none of the audience knew. The actual audio from the concert was used, and the actors did a wonderful and heartbreaking job of playing the band during one of their last major performances together. 

Though I thoroughly enjoyed most of the movie, I was slightly disappointed in the overt dramatization of the very real, very important history of the band. I’m not an expert on the feuds among Queen’s members, but the film took on a plot that is all too common. Mercury, naturally, let the significance of being the lead singer get to his head, and angered his band as a result of it. He claimed that the band would be nowhere without him and eventually quit to pursue a solo career at the advice of his personal manager, Paul Prenter (a man that the rest of the band hated). This plotline is not completely historically accurate — in fact, Mercury was not the first member of Queen to release music as a soloist. Though the general timeline and plot of the film were accurate, I had hoped that the creators wouldn’t just rely on dramatic, overdone plotlines and would instead focus on Queen’s true story. Although it made the movie more interesting, it made it difficult to tell how much was real. 

But Bohemian Rhapsody was a fantastic and ambitious film, and I would recommend it to anyone who knows even one of Queen’s songs. It’s easy to take for granted just how large Queen’s effect was on the entire music industry and to simply clap along when you hear the recognizable intro of “We Will Rock You.” Watching the film, however, reminded me that the band is more than just a couple of hit songs that have remained famous throughout the decades. Queen is and was legendary on every level, and Bohemian Rhapsody captures that. 

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