Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello
There’s a Freddie Mercury interview – called the Musical Prostitute Interview – in which Mercury smokes, drinks, and somewhere in between, claps for the sound sync. Throughout the interview, you cannot not notice Mercury’s fingers and hands. Long, slender, graceful. A piano player’s best asset.
In Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek who plays Mercury, is in bed with girlfriend Mary Austin, played by Lucy Boynton. Rami reaches behind him to play that famous piano that was the headboard of Mercury’s bed. His fingers hit the keys and we go in for a close-up. And I couldn’t help notice the chunky fingers.
Unfair, perhaps. But unavoidable for comparisons to crop up. This is, after all, a biopic on someone I consider a close personal friend (we never met but that doesn’t matter) and one of the loves of my life.
There are other bits, too. Performing on stage at Live Aid 1985, Mercury struts, prances, jumps, and owns the stage. And you notice his body. Those legs, that torso, those famous teeth, mouth and the moustache. And of course, that four-octave voice that got everybody to let go and sing along, clap their hands, and just lend themselves over.
In the film’s copy of that moment, Rami Malek imitates every move Mercury made. But you notice that while they could get the costume, the sets, and everything else close, Malek’s body isn’t just made the same way. He’s a bit shorter than Mercury, a little differently proportioned. So, what was a graceful strut seems put-on in the film. Jerky. As if the video’s frame-rate changed.
If it feels like I am obsessing over Mercury’s body, it’s true. I did, I do. But how can you not, when everything that made the man, was an embodied thing? Mercury famously refused surgery to fix his teeth and jaw, afraid that changing anything in his body would kill his voice.
But it is not just Mercury. John Deacon, played in the film by Joe Mazzello, and Roger Taylor, played in the film by Ben Hardy, also look close-but-no-cigar of the originals. This wouldn’t matter much, and shouldn’t matter much – and truth be told – doesn’t matter much, but I could not help thinking throughout the film, “No, Deaky didn’t look like this at all!”
Bohemian Rhapsody is directed by Bryan Singer, and produced by 20th Century Fox, GK Films, Queen Films, and others, and stars Remi Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Allen Leach, and others. The film features some of Queen’s biggest hits, with music producers Brian May and Roger Taylor – band members – overseeing the musical side of things.
There were many changes and delays in the production of this biopic. Originally, Sacha Baron Cohen was to play Mercury, but quit over disagreements with Roger Taylor and Brian May. After a gap, Rami Malek was roped in to star as Mercury, and Bryan Singer was to be director. However, last year, 20th Century Fox, which was bankrolling the film, fired Singer although letting him retain credit as director of the film.
Most films, most stories need a villain. In Sachin: A Billion Dreams, the writers and director had to work a little hard and clever to create a villain where there was no obvious one. In Bohemian Rhapsody, and in Mercury’s life, there were two big villains: Paul Prenter – Mercury’s manager who sold his secrets to the tabloids, and HIV-AIDS. But director Bryan Singer and writers Anthony McCarter and Peter Morgan have lessened the impact of both. Paul is given some motive and redemption in a very early scene, and AIDS is hardly discussed.
Instead, bits of frustration, annoyance, and hate, have been spread around. Everyone of Queen’s members, and Mary Austin, Paul, Jim Beach, Ray Forster, John Reid all have some grouse with Mercury. And so, when Mercury is late for a practice session, an angry Brian May begins recording the famous beats of ‘We Will Rock You’. In another situation, the band is discussing what would become ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, and Mercury saunters in late, having just fired manager John Reid. An argument breaks between John Deacon and Roger Taylor over the direction the band must go in, and this blows up. Mercury shouts “Queen is what I say it is!” Things are about to explode, but Deacon starts playing that amazing baseline (slightly reminiscent of the scene from K Balachander’s Unnal Mudiyum Thambi) and tension slowly ebbs away. Then, John Deacon gets up, slaps the sheet of music into Mercury’s hands and asks him to go sing. For someone dubbed “the quiet one”, this feels extraordinarily aggressive.
Other instances through the film also make John Deacon sound a lot more annoyed and frustrated with Freddie Mercury than I expected. John Deacon is the one who was most affected by Mercury’s death: he believed no one could replace Freddie, and left the band and retired from music, never collaborating with May and Taylor in the many attempted Queen revivals. Deacon did come back for the Mercury Tribute Concert, and for the single ‘Only the Good Die Young’, a homage to Mercury.
Through these little pushes and pulls, Bohemian Rhapsody fills the time between the many Queen hits. Obviously, the music and the hits are the biggest draw. Like the One Heart – AR Rahman Concert Movie, it’s the playlist of songs more than what is transpiring on screen that redeems the film.
And so, we have ‘Love of My Life’ (a personal favourite), ‘Somebody to Love’, ‘Killer Queen’, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, ‘We Are the Champions’, ‘Hammer to Fall’, ‘Radio GaGa’, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, ‘Now I’m Here’, ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’, ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’, and ‘Under Pressure’. Too bad, there was no Bowie, even a hint of him, in the film.
As I left the theatre, I wondered what happened to the little kid – Ross McCall – who played little Freddie Mercury in the superb song ‘Miracle’. And, if he was ever considered to play Mercury in the biopic.
The Bohemian Rhapsody review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.