Starring Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Allen Leech, Aaron McCusker, Dermot Murphy, Meneka Das, Ace Bhatti, Priya Blackburn, Philip Andrew, Max Bennett, Jack Roth
Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
Story by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan
Directed by Bryan Singer
Creative consultants, music producers, Brian May, Roger Taylor
Produced by Graham King, Jim Beach
Original musical score by John Ottman
Songs by Queen
Cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel
Edited by John Ottman
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” director Bryan Singer’s excellent, moving, comedic, dramatic, insightful, music-filled, riveting and thoroughly entertaining film biography of eclectic rock band Queen and the band’s intensely charismatic and mesmerizing lead singer Freddie Mercury, will rock you—the movie is simply one of the best films so far in 2018, one of the best rock music film biographies in ages, and one of the best film biographies in ages. As the Halloween season ends, autumn arrives, and the prestige season for films truly sets in, there’s no better film to see this weekend (the film’s opening weekend of Nov. 2-4, 2018) than “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a grand, big, epic film musical biography that excellently succeeds at all of the required filmic elements—acting, writing, director and production—and succeeds at every emotional level—drama, comedy, tragedy, music, historical biography and more–to present a fact-based, true story that also touches on numerous themes, messages, morals and lessons will leave moviegoers thinking deeper thoughts after the credits roll. The film is emotional, touching, caring, dramatic, tragic, comedic, musical, historical, nostalgic, sentimental and consistently intelligent–all at once. For once in a film music biography, the characters are presented as real human beings without Hollywood’s usual exaggerated and overly-dramatic and overly melodramatic touches. The movie’s very real, but it’s also very human, very positive on many levels, very upbeat and hopeful–and, again, just a very smart movie, from start to finish. And that intelligence is evident with Singer’s well-paced, well-timed, inventive direction; the acting from everyone in the cast; the thorough and elaborate and detail-oriented and beautifully-recreated production design; and the script, which gives viewers so much to think about, you can’t help but appreciate, again, just how smart the words, dialogue, outline and presentation of the story is from start to finish.
Even if you’re not a rock fan, even if you’re not a Queen fan–go see “Bohemian Rhapsody”–simply because it’s an excellent film.
The period, historical production design, art direction, set decoration, costumes, hair, make-up and other period details are superb, excellently capturing key 1970s and 1980s people, moments, places, locations, sets, times and events–including an absolutely astounding re-creation of the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, where Queen promptly stole the show!
Kudos to everyone involved, but special congrats go out to actor Rami Malek for an Academy Award-worthy, bravuro, stupendous–and consistently touching and emotional–performance as Freddie Mercury; Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello–the other actors who play Queen members Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, respectively; and director Singer, who pulls out all of the great–and well-used–camera, lighting, pacing and editing tools and uses them to create a whirring, spinning, dazzling, entertaining movie. Singer’s inventive, unique and original direction in “Bohemian Rhapsody” shows that he’s not afraid to use his filmic talents and tools in what could have been a staid, perfunctory and cliched movie in lesser hands. Singer’s camera moves up, down, around, through, into, over and across people, sets, stages, studios and other locations, whirring here and there, sometimes moving fast, sometimes moving slowly, and sometimes just sitting back and observing the actor’s faces, expressions and body movements—all, together, a superb display of excellent film directing. Yes, Singer was fired after filming most of the movie, and Dexter Fletcher was brought in to finish the filming, but the film remains Singer’s achievement—Singer’s unique mark is all over the movie, and it’s truly his superb work that enhances and envelops the movie.
Malek achieves throughout the movie what any good actor should achieve—deep, rich, layered, emotional moments using his voice, eyes, face and body, often all at once, to portray an intense, conflicted, complicated and fascinating person. In several scenes, Malek evokes the deepest emotions with only his eyes and face—conveying the appropriate emotion, mood, feelings and thoughts with just a look, a movement, a facial expression. And his physical body movements are also dead-on, from simply walking to performing on stage or in the studio. Malek’s performance in “Bohemian Rhapsody” is so consistently evocative and enriching, his acting will leave you mesmerized. Malek truly captures the complexity that is Freddie Mercury, whether Mercury is interacting with bandmates, his family, record executives, studio producers, fans, lovers, friends or acquaintances. Malek’s performance is one for the ages—and he should be appropriately awarded for such a thorough, complex, layered and talented portrayal.
Actually, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is so good, the film should be, and very well could be, in contention for Academy Awards for Malek, Singer, screenwriter Anthony McCarten, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel—who reportedly also helped director some scenes during the production, and the film’s production designer and art director. Yes, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that good.
Interestingly, three of the very best films in 2018 so far are biographies—“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “First Man” and “Operation Finale.” This just proves, yet again, that screenwriters looking for quality material often don’t need to look much farther than real life and history for inspiration. This happens frequently, of course, thank goodness—just look at the great success in recent years with “Hidden Figures” (2016); “Argo” (2012); “Spotlight” (2015); “Dunkirk” (2017); and “Darkest Hour” (2017), among others. However, there’s a much larger lesson here, and that lesson for screenwriters and for Hollywood executives on this point is clear: There’s zero need for the continued ridiculous bombardment of mostly-embarrassing, mostly-low-quality remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, sequels, prequels and similar unoriginal, non-imaginative, lame retreads. History and real life are filled with thousands of stories that need to be told up on the screen. And, again, that is the well that screenwriters, producers, directors, studios and executives need to be drawing from, always.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” tells the classic story of a rags-to-riches, incredibly talented and consistently hard-working, creative, original and thoughtful British rock band—Queen, comprised of singer Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bass player John Deacon–that, through hard work, creativity, talent and perseverance, worked hard to become one of the most popular, endearing and enduring rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s. And Queen achieved their success by not just writing popular, much-loved, hook-rich, riff-rich and catchy rock and pop songs, but by constantly re-inventing themselves. Not satisfyied with simply presenting the same types of songs over and over again, Queen tried—and succeeded at—coming up with new ways to write and produce songs and albums. Thus, they had a steady stream of highly-successful, instantly-classic, memorable and thoroughly enjoyable rock and pop songs—all of which sold well, were well-received, were revered, were welcomed and appreciated worldwide—straight from the band’s inception in 1970 to Mercury’s tragic, untimely and just plain incredibly sad death from AIDS-related complications in 1991—at the too-young age of 45. The movie tells the band’s story, with a focus on Mercury as the story, character and exposition center and foundation, from the formation of Queen in 1970 up to the band’s instantly-classic performance at Live Aid in 1985—a perfect place to end the film story, and, once again, in storytelling terms, yet another indication of the overall intelligence of the film. Queen’s literally show-stopping twenty-minute performance at Wembley Stadium at Live Aid in July of 1985 was so full of energy, charisma, intensity and classic rock emotion between the band and the audience, that twenty-minute performance is still considered one of the classic rock performances in music history. The set was so engaging and successful, the set promptly caused a spike in donations to Live Aid, musician and activist Bob Geldof’s charity event to raise money for impoverished African communities.
Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon were and are, obviously, incredibly talented musicians, singers and songwriters, but, like most close-knit bands, a family, and, like any and every family on Earth, their family lives could often be soap operas, filled with fights, spats, squabbles, disagreements, creative and political and personal and social and cultural and business differences, personal and relationship difficulties, and periods of intense, or quietly intense, ups and downs, positives and negatives, and the good, the bad and the ugly. And, then, when a family is a band, there’s other layers of difficulties—differences about creativity, songwriting, music, albums, tours, side projects, solo projects, managers, personal managers, record deals, credits, royalties, singles, release dates, tours, tour locations, travel, friends, hangers-on, groupies, road managers, and on and on. It’s a wonder any band in rock and pop history lasts longer than five years, considering the considerable levels of tensions and stress that do go along with being a band—and, yes, no one should strum fiddle strings in mourning too much, considering the huge monetary payouts, the fame, the fortune, the riches, the sex, the high life. Bits and pieces of all of this—the problems of any close-knit family or family-like community and the problems of any close-knit band—form the basis for many parts of the story in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And it’s all continually fascinating, suspenseful, intense and entertaining.
But, on top of all of that, Queen had another interesting factor that, more than all of that, provides the real foundation, center and backbone of the band’s—and the movie’s—story: Freddie Mercury. Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, was indeed a larger-than-life person in real life. He was, first, an incredibly talented musician, singer and songwriter. His voice is generally-agreed to rest safely and securely in rock history as one of the great rock voices of all times. He played a passionate piano. He had an ear for catchy, epic, big-sound and accessible rock and pop anthems, and he wrote a long list of classic rock and pop songs for Queen. And he could command a stage like the best rock performers—igniting arena stages with a special charisma, style and presence that instantly connected to concertgoers and radio and record listeners. Mercury was simply a classic performer who was happy to give the people what they wanted, as Mercury notes so smartly in the film.
But there was another side to Mercury that presented some deep, difficult conflicts in his life. Mercury was bisexual, and he enjoyed relationships with men and women. That’s nothing to really worry about usually, of course, especially today, in 2018, of course. But, amazing and sadly, even in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Mercury’s sex life presented difficulties for him and the band socially, culturally and politically, to the point of stupid reporters asking stupid questions about his personal life. However, the band was better than all of that, and Queen persevered and succeeded, and they didn’t let a bunch of traitorous band rats and stupid tabloid reporters put any real dent in the band’s success. However, more importantly to Mercury’s story and the band’s story, Freddie Mercury was caught in life between the true love of his live, his first serious girlfriend, Mary Austin—played so touchingly, lovingly, caringly and emotionally by an excellent Lucy Boynton in the movie—and his similar attraction to men. Mercury was consistently caught between his true love of Mary and his pull in the direction of men, and that caused him unbearable emotional conflict, stress, worries and even loneliness. But Mary Austin, to her unending credit in real life, was a wonderfully compassionate, caring, intelligent woman, and she remained as devoted and caring to Mercury as Mercury was to her. Their story—also one of the foundations of the movie—is so incredibly touching, caring and emotional, several scenes between Mercury and Austin will simply have moviegoers reaching for their tissues.
Additionally, Mercury dealt with a decidedly traditional, non-entertainment-oriented family led by a conservative father who seemingly didn’t quite understand, appreciate or recognize exactly Mercury’s performer persona, talents, creativity, urges, wants and needs. This is a common occurrence in real life and in entertainment biographies—intensely creative and talented performers who just want to succeed in entertainment, all the while battling more conservative, non-entertainment family members, siblings or parents who, well, just don’t understand. This storyline, too, is explored and presented in “Bohemian Rhapsody”—and several scenes between Mercury and his father will also have moviegoers reaching for the tissues.
However, it should be noted that the accompanying positive, upbeat and optimistic aspects of Queen are also consistently presented in the movie—because there were plenty of highlights and positives to go along with the downsides and conflicts, naturally. The band was hugely successful, widely loved, appreciated, respected and revered worldwide, and their songs, albums and concerts consistently sold well and were much-loved, again, worldwide. This, too, is presented in the film. Things weren’t all bad for Queen, and the movie reserves plenty of time for the good side of things, as it should be.
And then, of course, there was the music. Queen released a most impressive barrage and stream of classic rock and songs from the band’s inception in 1970 straight through until the time of Mercury’s tragic death in 1991. The list of songs is long, but includes the inventive “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the all-out rocker “Killer Queen,” “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Stone Cold Crazy,” the absolutely beautiful “Love of My Life” (which Mercury wrote about Austin), “Somebody to Love,” “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Bicycle Race,” “Another Bites the Dust,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Under Pressure,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Get Down, Make Love,” “Hammer to Fall,” “I Want to Break Free,” and even many others. And many of these songs are used perfectly, wonderfully and aptly in the film. The songs are brilliantly used to convey mood, time, place, feel, aura, atmosphere and story moments—precisely how songs should be used in a rock biography. The use of Queen’s songs is not gratuitous, and the songs fit the mood and sense of place portrayed through the film’s story.
Notably, Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor were creative and music consultants for the movie, so their over-arching insight, authority, experience and knowledge of the band, the band’s community, the band’s history and the band’s music add yet another layer of insight and intelligence to the film.
So, when you add up all of the above elements into the film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and none of these connected, overlapping, related elements distract or override or dominate any of the other elements, and in turn all result in a smoothly-told, entertaining movie, well, that is simply the result of all filmic levels—story, characters, story and character and plot development, music, history, biography, direction, production, writing and acting—coming together in an intelligent, insightful and entertaining movie.
The movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” arrives just two years short of Queen’s fiftieth anniversary as a band, and this movie is a fitting, welcome anniversary present. It should be noted, again, that despite the inherent drama and conflict and tragedy presented in the story of Queen and Mercury, the movie is also filled with plenty of comedy and laughs and straight-out optimism, which are presented at just the right times in the story and scenes to provide a balance for the more moving, emotional, dramatic story elements. And that’s important to note because Queen and Mercury were, in the end, really all about, as Mercury notes, performing and giving the people what they want. And, man, did they deliver on that promise. And, appropriately, the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” succeeds on that note just as successfully—the movie performs and gives the people what they want. Moviegoers will walk out of the film moved, emotional, thinking about the movie’s many morals and themes—but moviegoers will also walk out happy, uplifted, positive and optimistic from the movie’s glow and overall positivity, and moviegoers will realize that although we lost Freddie Mercury at much too young an age, the band’s classic music—and now the movie—about Queen will live on forever.
That’s important to remember, and one can’t help but be reminded of Mercury’s lyrics in “Love of My Life,” and how those lyrics could apply to remembering Queen, Mercury, May, Taylor, Deacon, their music–and now their movie–forever:
“You will remember, when this is blown over
And everything’s all by the way
When I grow older, I will be there at your side, to remind you
How I still love you—I still love you.”