Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic of one of the greatest rock bands of all time – Queen. Much like one of their concerts, it’s two hours of unbridled, outrageous flamboyancy that would be hard-pressed to make more entertaining. The film has everything that one might want from an exceptional piece – from moments of desperate, heart-wrenching sadness, to beautifully-timed, laugh-out-loud humour. Not to mention the music. My god, the music.
As one might expect, one of the film’s core concepts is Freddie’s never-personally-revealed homosexuality, and the demons that his prohibition spawned, a depressing necessity in an era that didn’t just treat gayness with intolerance, but with a reviled spit in the face. I remember an old alcoholic who I used to play darts with bragging about “queer bashing” back in the 70’s, that glorious decade when it was considered admirable by some to assault men because of their apparently abnormal sexuality. With such people not just lurking in the shadows but bragging about their behaviour, Freddie Mercury didn’t stand a chance of showing his true colours. His closeted position was smart, but dismally sad nonetheless. The so-called norms of society also pervaded the expectations of those who were supposed to love him most – his Zoroastrian, traditionally-Persian family. His father, cutting a typical dominant, authoritarian male figure, wished his son to be more straight-laced and conventional, an untenable concept for someone with an unstoppable flamboyance. The unreasonable expectations that he placed upon his son lent a distasteful tension to their relationship throughout the film – like anyone else, Freddie just wanted to be loved and accepted by his parents. In addition to his father’s traditional, typical stance, he had the potent racism of the era to contend with, in which “Paki bashing” went along with “queer bashing”, making him positively ashamed of his family’s heritage. In order to distance himself from his ethnic background, and as a way to be more appealing to an often bigoted public, Farrokh Bulsara became Freddie Mercury. In those days the world wasn’t ready for an openly gay, ornate Persian, no matter how indescribably entertaining he might be.
Freddie wasn’t committed to his homosexuality from an early point, forging a sexual relationship with the acclaimed “love of his life” Mary Austin, who he pledged to marry. This wasn’t a meaningless, throwaway attachment, but a deep and genuine love for his fiancée, the chemistry from which Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton can be applauded. This aspect of the film expressed the beauty and power of intimacy, transcending the traditional notion of black and white sexuality to create something sublime – simply two people’s love for each other. Despite Freddie’s clear penchant for males, he was able to thrive in an endearing and enduring sexual relationship with a woman, the love of whom provided a rock-steady anchor in his greatest times of despair. Freddie would be considered gay beyond measure by most, but the greatest love of his life happened to be a female. Like Queen themselves, this was refreshingly unconventional. Mary Austin’s devastation when Freddie finally confesses his “bisexuality” is a beautifully poignant moment in the film, and one of its best.
As Mary’s suspicions are increasingly aroused by Freddie’s flirtatious behaviour with males, he can feel his fiancé slipping away from him, a catalyst which pushes him to a universal coping mechanism – partying. But booze, pills or cocaine never solved anyone’s problems, they just force them down and swell their potency. Freddie was so frightened of facing his demons that he submerged himself in a world that eventually, would kill him. If he were born in a more tolerant era, perhaps Freddie Mercury would have had the courage to reveal himself in all his glamorous, shining glory, and he’d still be alive today. As his love with Mary Austin slowly morphed into something disagreeable, the intimacy in his life shrank, and the escapism that he sought raged. A rock star loved by millions the world over, suffering from loneliness of the most extreme degree.
After revealing his sexual preferences to his fiancée, Freddie’s partying reached new heights, encouraged by the film’s only real villain: Paul Prenter, the band’s manager. Also a marginalised, lonely homosexual, Prenter encourages Freddie’s destructive behaviour, which ultimately ended up killing him. Both men were portrayed as having years of pent up homosexuality, erupting into decadent extremity. The blame can’t be placed solely on Paul Prenter, but his slimey, snakish actions throughout the latter stages of the film, culminating in him revealing Freddie’s homosexual exploits to a tabloid newspaper, create a genuine dislike for the character. As for the tabloids themselves, their moral corruption was typical – all they wanted was to sell more newspapers, despite the pain it may have caused. During a press conference scene, Brian May repeatedly enquires as to whether the so-called-journalists are going to ask about the band’s music, the most important part of Queen’s legacy. This speaks to the nature of that entire sickening industry. Giving the people what they want is no excuse.
In one of the final scenes of the film, as Freddie confesses his sexuality to his parents, his father becomes angry for a moment, but then softens and finally accepts his son for what he is – another truly beautiful moment. This leads to Queen’s famous performance at Live Aid, a hair-raising 20-minute medley of their greatest hits, with Freddie’s flamboyance more extreme than ever before due to the long-desired acceptance of those closest to him. The digital reconstruction of the original Wembley Stadium, Twin Towers and all, was extremely well done.
Mike Myers was cleverly positioned as a record manager who fell-out with the band over their most famous record and the film’s namesake, a song that he’s famous for enthusiastically headbanging to in Wayne’s World. Even though the character never actually existed in real life, his presence in the film added satisfying humour, particularly in the closing scenes when he’s sat alone in his office, watching Queen’s Live Aid performance on TV along with 1.5 billion others.
Another comical scene in the film shows Freddie prostrating himself before the band years after quitting – a complete reversal of power which Brian May takes advantage of by politely asking Freddie, for the first time ever, to leave the office so that the other band members may confer, proverbial tongue wedged into his cheek. The band’s greatest star had finally learned how to be humble.
Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury was truly awesome, from his authentic facial expressions to his extravagant on-stage movement, the actor must be a contender for an Oscar. He positively transformed into the character – Mr Robot was nowhere to be seen.
The entire movie was a parallel of Freddie Mercury’s life – thrilling to the extreme, ceaselessly troubling, but never boring. Brian May’s euphonious guitar, Roger Taylor’s furious drums, John Deacon’s subterranean bass, and Freddie Mercury’s exceptional voice create an incredible soundtrack, which when combined with the story, forges a captivating film. Four characters who seemed to have little in common, and who on their own were mediocre, formulated genius when working together. We can be thankful for Queen’s turbulent, unhinged passion in producing some of the greatest music of all time, and the film’s creators for making a wonderfully enthralling story, deserving of the band’s glorious legacy.
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