Written by Fleur Feeney |
Upon seeing Bohemian Rhapsody, I was struck with a vague sense that the film was underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, it was emotional, it made me cry… and yet it could have been something so much more.
For whatever reason, it lacked a certain originality, which is especially disappointing since Queen themselves were so pioneering in their art. Their music knows no bounds, stretching across genres and styles, yet the feature made in their honour is playing it safe, following a formulaic structure that most of us have seen before.
The sheer decadence of being a rockstar is little explored in this biopic of actual rockstars.
With exception to some opulent outfits worn by Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), scattered allusions to drugs and some leather clad gay men, there is little of the rockstar lifestyle that the band led. The press has reported on the band’s pure excess since their birth, with stories of extravagant, drug and sex fueled parties – the infamous ‘Saturday Night in Sodom’ blowing the band’s £20,000 budget, with imported coke, naked waiters, and dwarves carrying appetisers, not to mention the fire-eaters, contortionists and countless prostitutes. It was an ‘excessall areas’ lifestyle, as Mercury used to say.
However, due to the 12 rating, there was hardly scope to explore this side of Queen, which, in my opinion, left it a little lacking. Isn’t it the point of a biopic to dig deep into the subject, to stay true to life? You can imagine how a little more decadence in the film-making could have elevated the finished product – a heart-wrenching, comedic feature with the warmth of ‘Pride’, the thrill of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, the rawness and true-story shock of ‘Dallas Buyers Club’.
This seems important not only to make the film more exciting to watch, but to make it truer to life – Bohemian Rhapsody was pretty hot, but it could have been explosive.
To this end, I must say, the film perhaps steered away from Mercury’s homosexuality. Whilst, yes, his relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) was important to him throughout his life – the scene in which he tells her he’s bisexual is possibly the best in the whole film. The filmmakers perhaps paid attention to it at the expense of his same-sex relationships.
Whilst we see Mercury and Austin interacting with great intimacy, Mercury’s relationships with men are reduced to slight touches of the hand and the very occasional snog – even with Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), whom he spends the rest of his life with. Audiences, especially queer ones, are deprived of that representation, not only in a sexy-telly way, but in seeing genuine, loving human connection. When so much of the film tells like an important part of LGBT history, it’s a shame to not develop that part of Mercury’s life with as much care as can be afforded.
Sexuality is so much less of a taboo topic now and there’s a sense that director BryanSinger needed to embrace this more, throw himself into Mercury’s identity and relationships whole heartedly. Being a key part of Mercury’s life, it deserved closer care and attention. In fact, I would go so far to say that Mercury’s reunion with Hutton feels tacked on at the end; with exception to a couple of seconds of Mercury flicking through a phone book, there is no lead up to their much-awaited reunion. Mercury spent the rest of his life with this man, standing together through adversity, and disease even, yet he is afforded little screen time.
However, overall, it’s nice. Watching it, you get a real sense of the band. Of course Rami Malek’s Freddie holds a good deal of our attention, but the film isn’t limited to him. We discover that Brian May (Gwilym Lee) wrote ‘We Will Rock You’, that John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) wrote ‘Another One Bites The Dust.’
We see their chemistry, their origin story, and it’s really quite funny, and certainly heartwarming at times.
This is owed largely to the performances from some very talented actors. Personally, Malek’s Freddie Mercury grew on me as the film progressed, but he was indeed compelling and gave some looks that positively made the heart break – his performance certainly did the legendary Freddie Mercury justice. As an ensemble, the whole band dynamic was compelling and it was funny. As an audience, you could certainly buy into their chemistry and revel in the almost ‘behind the scenes’ nature of the film. Seeing the band go from studying astrophysics and dentists to playing Live Aid, the biggest concert in the world at that time, was delightful to watch.
Bohemian Rhapsody needed to be bolder, like its namesake.
It did its job as a biopic, ended on a high and served us some stellar performances. The score was fantastic, the cinematography was stellar, But, it still leaves us lacking. I was left craving something morally transgressive, a film that breaks boundaries and delves deep into the queen that was Freddie Mercury.
My takeaway is that the whole team needed to make like the real life Freddie and raise their game, become legend – nevermind the boundaries and the set backs. For a film with so much potential, it’s a shame it wasn’t better. The film certainly would have benefitted from an increasingly carpe diem attitude, which Queen very much embodied in their stratospheric rise to success.
If you want to learn about Queen and listen to some great tunes then Bohemian Rhapsody is for you; if you’re looking for the film of the year… look elsewhere.
Bohemian Rhapsody is being screened at The Poly at Falmouth at 7.30pm tonight.