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Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

6 November 18

After a nightmare production that saw the originally cast actor drop out and the director fired, we went to see if Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was worth all the trouble... 

Director: Bryan Singer (later replaced by Dexter Fletcher)

Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee

Running time: 134 mins

As the bombastic final twenty minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody, in which Queen’s tub-thumping 1985 Live Aid set is recreated at great length, drew to a close, I found myself sitting in a packed cinema full of people wildly applauding. A middle-aged stranger, teeth exposed with unrestrained glee, accidentally spat in my face whilst shouting, “That was bloody fantastic, wasn’t it?” He was right and he wasn’t. Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, was entertaining, but not an awful lot more. It passed by like two hours spent playing a computer game: fun enough whilst it’s happening, but when all is said and done, you’ve not actually achieved anything. And I’m not entirely sure that any exciting moments owed much at all to the film itself.  As I filed past the excited patrons on my way out of the cinema, the same question that had plagued me throughout the film’s 135 minute running time returned again: was there actually a single moment in the film that wasn’t entertaining solely because of Queen’s music?

Bohemian Rhapsody strikes me as a film so concerned about playing it safe, it forgets to actually show anything of depth or substance, as Anthony McCarten’s script races through the life and times of Freddie Mercury in tawdry, formulaic and relatively shallow fashion. There’s a shy young man with giant teeth named Farrokh Bulsara, who seemingly has a troubled past. Why?Who knows. Here’s Another One Bites the Dust. Now he’s in a band called Queen and wants to call himself Freddie Mercury. He’s also engaged to a woman. No time to explain why, let's just listen to We Will Rock You, because Queen are huge now and the band are experimental geniuses who corner a specific market with huge success. How? Don’t worry about it; just enjoy listening to Bohemian Rhapsody. Freddie has come out as gay, but let's not explore any conflict or problems that may have caused, let’s just hear I Want To Break Free. We’re told several times that Queen are no ordinary band, and Freddie Mercury is no ordinary frontman.  We’re told we’re dealing with something unique, but we’re never actually shown how or why, we’re just scrolling through a visual Queen Wikipedia page whilst listening to a pretty decent tribute band act out the greatest hits. 

The majority of the enjoyment comes from the music itself, which the filmmakers can take little credit for

Director Brian Singer seems like he doesn’t know whether to shit or get off the pot with what he wants Bohemian Rhapsody to actually be about. What’s more interesting? Freddie Mercury’s tumultuous private life, or Queen’s anomalous place in music history? Frustratingly, he does neither, and we’re left with a watchable, but sanitized, paint by-numbers biopic that offers little more than the average Queen fan knew already. The process can’t have been helped at all by Singer’s firing during the film’s production, owing to continued clashes with actor Rami Malek. After eventually being replaced by Dexter Fletcher, you can’t help but feel that the final result is something of a salvaging mission, devoid of any risk, assembled instead to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Brian May and Roger Taylor’s involvement in the film further reduces the risk of any real conflict, as any potentially interesting explorations into the bands more fractious moments are glossed over quickly, ensuring that no one ever looks like the bad guy. 

Perhaps most frustrating is Rami Malek’s performance. Not in its quality, he’s an inspired choice to play Mercury, and is inarguably the best thing about the film, but that a performance of this quality is wasted on a film this bland. It just reeks of missed opportunity. Instead, Malek’s pitch-perfect turn is often reduced to lengthy karaoke sessions and all to brief glimpses of interesting conflicts, as neither his Parsi background, his relationship with his Father, his conflicting sexuality or the impact of his meteoric rise to fame are ever explored in depth. 

I’m acutely aware that this review sits fairly squarely within the majority of the critical response to the film so far, which is seemingly at direct odds to the audience reaction – that was clear enough from the one rapturous screening I attended.  There’s something perspicacious in the film’s conclusion, which shows a montage of negative critic responses to the song Bohemian Rhapsody, which obviously went on to be one of the most beloved pieces of music in history. But I can’t shake the feeling that the majority of the enjoyment comes from the music itself, which the filmmakers can take little credit for - particularly as Mercury's original recordings are used rather than new compositions featuring Malek. So whilst it may be a crowd-pleaser, as a film, Bohemian Rhapsody unfortunately offers little else. 

Did you know? Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury) and Joseph Mazzello (John Deacon) previously starred together in the HBO series The Pacific

Also, did you know? Bohemian Rhapsody features two Notts actors in Keiran Hardcastle, who plays a baggage handler in the opening scene and Ace Bhatti, who plays Mercury's Father, Bomi Bulsara

Bohemian Rhapsody is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 8 November

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