World at Their Feet!

There’s a lot of gloom and despondency around the Irish rugby team at the moment. Curious stuff for a team presently ranked number one in the world. Forget for a moment the pure idiocy of the world ranking system, it’s strange to see so much disaffection among followers of the side that’s top of the rugby tree.

This writer-for his sins-has followed the ups and downs of Irish rugby for the best part of three decades. However, despite six years of unprecedented success under Maestro Schmidt, I can’t recall feeling so underwhelmed coming into a World Cup campaign. It’s weird, isn’t it? Three Six Nations titles, encompassing a Grand Slam, and not one, but two, yes two, wins over the ABs should infuse a greater sense of optimism.

Maybe we’re just bloody greedy! After all, we never had it so good. Right? Well, expectations are measured by a fairly flat Six Nations performance that featured two poor losses against England and Grand Slam winners, Wales. While the heroics of last November were always hard to repeat, the sheer scale of those defeats shocked. Those reverses were, well, very un-Ireland, if you excuse the clumsy expression.

Granted, it’s hard at the top of the tree waiting to be knocked down, but fans struggled to understand Ireland’s swift fall from grace. Throw in the complete hammering inflicted by England during the World Cup warm-ups and we see a picture of confidence dented and wind furiously taken from Ireland’s once high-flying sails. Heroes to zeros and all that.

And yet, the nucleus of an extremely good rugby side remains intact. Think about it. Ireland possess mammoth experience in virtually every position and a wealth of talent is at the squad’s disposal. Irish rugby has never had such strength in depth across the board.

Furthermore, in Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, Schmidt has the best half-backs in the tournament. Ireland’s halves are all-time greats whose World Cup stories thus far are of frustrating underachievement. If they stay off the physio table this time, 2019 is the chance to shine.

And in Schmidt, Ireland have one of the greatest coaches: smart, innovative and ambitious. After the anti-climax of 2015, Ireland’s best ever strategist is determined to end on a high. One more roll of the dice for Schmidt and off into the rugby sunset he goes. We want a happy ending for coach and captain of course, but seldom does the rugby gods dispense justice.

We start the campaign with a massive game against Scotland. A good side that knows Ireland like the back of its hand, this is far from the gimme many have supposed. With rain forecast, expect relentless targeting of the Irish line-out and breakdown; with a full blown aerial assault thrown in. Injuries, especially in the back three, have hampered preparation, but Ireland have the experience and nous to negotiate the ambush.

Withstand the Scottish onslaught and Ireland have a relatively straightforward group before another quarter-final; likely against the behemoths of South Africa. This will be the cup final of all cup finals. Ireland’s profile is low but they fancy their chances. Make no mistake about that. Win that almighty tussle and all bets are off. Heck, even the All Blacks don’t frighten anymore!

But there’s much work to be done before that. Toil, sweat and homework in the land of the rising sun. However, Schmidt’s Ireland are up for the fight. Indeed, it will be the last chance for a lot of them; esteemed coach included. See, it’s not so bad actually. Forget the doom and gloom. Ireland will do fine. Schmidt’s boys are primed for their best ever World Cup finish.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

 

Alun Wyn Jones, Greig Laidlaw, Sergio Parisse, Rory Best, Guilhem Guirado and Owen Farrell 23/1/2019
REPRO FREE***PRESS RELEASE NO REPRODUCTION FEE***EDITORIAL USE ONLY 2019 Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship Launch, The Hurlingham Club, Ranelagh Gardens, London 23/1/2019 Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones, Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw, Italy’s Sergio Parisse, Ireland’s Rory Best, France’s Guilhem Guirado and England’s Owen Farrell Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

United in Rugby

Recently, rather belatedly, I saw Brian O’Driscoll’s documentary, Shoulder to Shoulder. The film is superb. It tells the story of Irish rugby’s paradoxical, unique ability to unite Irish people of all backgrounds, including during the darkest days of the Troubles, with the intense hatred and division that reigned in those times.

If you haven’t seen it, Shoulder to Shoulder is essential viewing. And its relevance extends way beyond rugby. The documentary has many highlights, but the interviews with rugby heroes, from very different backgrounds, confirming how their differences were set aside for the common cause, are both inspiring and thought provoking.

This is surely Irish rugby’s greatest strength: the ability to unite in a society that’s  historically been divided and polarised along sectarian lines. Many organisations purport to unite Irish people, but how many actually do it in a genuinely inclusive, unifying way? What else unites men and women of the island, from all traditions, on the same terms? I can’t think of any other organisation or sector of society that does it in quite the same way as rugby.

Catholics, Protestants, Unionists, Nationalists, Loyalists and Republicans all buying into the idea of a 32-county Irish team and prepared to support that team on an equal basis. It’s a truly fantastic thing. Rugby leads the way. That’s before we even get to the unique concept of the Lions, an international sporting team whose fans wave tricolours and Union Jacks in unison. Honestly, where else do you see anything like that?

Now, I’m not one that idealises rugby. The sport has a legion flaws and is far from perfect. We all know the historical problems with social exclusion and the perception that the sport exemplifies a certain type of snobbery. Although, even that idea has always been somewhat of a myth. Try going to Limerick, for example, and claiming rugby as a purely middle-class preoccupation.

Furthermore, we can talk all day about the dangers and risks associated with a contact sport increasingly obsessed with size and violent collisions. Yes, rugby is far from ideal. We know that. But it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate rugby’s unique ability to bring people together. That trumps everything else.

Shoulder to Shoulder tells how members of northern security services played together with those from Nationalist and Republican backgrounds during the height of the Troubles. If that sounds remarkable, it’s fair to say this fact was never the issue it could have been within Irish rugby. In the oval ball game, there was always a keen sense that what unites us is much more important than what divides. They were all Irishmen, united in common cause. The politics was left at the door.

Brothers spilling blood, sweat and tears for the green shirt. The IRFU has made provision for the diversity of identities within the sport in Ireland with the introduction of Ireland’s Call. While the song itself is far from great, it symbolises something much more: the ability of Irish men (and women) from different community backgrounds to come together for the good of Irish rugby.

However, long before the introduction of the unity anthem (brought in for the 1995 Rugby World Cup), many unionists and Protestants from Ulster played under the tricolour and stood respectfully for Amhran na bhfiann. It happens to this day. One of the proudest facts about Irish rugby is that many of its key men throughout history have been from the northern, unionist tradition. Think of Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson, Syd Millar and Jack Kyle. True giants of Irish rugby.

But the truth is (and Shoulder to Shoulder shows this perfectly) that none of that actually mattered. Religion, political beliefs, allegiances, community backgrounds. These labels were wholly irrelevant. Because, in Irish rugby, we’re all in it together. From all corners of the country. North, south, east, west and everywhere else in between.

It’s a weird phenomenon: this predominantly middle-class sport that unites Catholic, Protestant and dissenter. As we move forward, many desire to unite the people of Ireland, from all backgrounds, peacefully and are looking for novel and workable ways to achieve this aspiration. Those in need in inspiration should look no further than Lansdowne Road. Because the IRFU did it years ago.

 

P.S. So, the inevitable has happened and Boris Johnson has acceded to his lifelong dream and become British prime minister. Comparisons are, of course, being made with Trump but Bojo is different; a much more complex and nuanced character. I don’t buy his buffoonish persona for a second. Johnson is clearly an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable man. A driven operator, whose ambition is matched only by this opportunism. A master orator who will compel many to his cause.

However, it’s hard to see much in his colourful past that remotely qualifies Boris for the job at hand. Indeed, Johnson’s elevation tells you all you need to know about his relentless ambition. Surely there has never been a worse time to be British PM? Just ask Theresa. The gloves are off. The most febrile and ugly of debates has begun. Stand by for a frenzy of virtue signalling, faux indignation and extreme polarisation. I’m bored already!

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

 

 

Expectations Encouragingly Low

Expectations Encouragingly Low

What is the secret of the success of the Irish rugby team? If there is such a hack, it’s the ability to do the simple things exceedingly well, over and over again. I know I’m being a little reductive here, but that’s the essence. Over the last six seasons, under the careful stewardship of Joe Schmidt, Ireland have been the masters of the basics, the kings of simple. And what rewards that approach brought. A third Grand Slam, promotion to the dizzy position of number two in the world rankings and a maiden win over the All Blacks on Irish soil. This time last year, Schmidt’s men were indeed the masters of all they surveyed.

A year on, the picture is noticeably different. If 2018 was an unprecedented peak for Irish rugby, this year, so far, fairly underwhelming in comparison. It’s not that Ireland have been poor (they haven’t) but a Six Nations that was bookmarked by two decidedly average performances against England and Wales tells the story of a team rattled from its lofty perch. Displays firmly rooted in second gear as opposed to the polished performances of 2018. Ireland are certainly not suffering from a crisis of confidence, but the strut of recent times has been replaced by a sheepish crawl.

Things were so different a year ago. Irish fans were looking ahead to the World Cup with buoyancy and anticipation. Despite the harsh lessons of history, this time was going to be different. Schmidt’s perfectly prepped side was set up to make its own mark and finally deliver on the biggest stage of all. What could possibly go wrong after the success achieved by a groundbreaking Ireland and its key component, a dazzling Leinster side that had completed an historic double?

It feels different now. The wheels haven’t exactly fallen off, but the landscape has changed. Ireland are chastened and a tad demoralised, while Leinster were overpowered and humbled by a rampant Saracens in the recent Champions Cup final. Not a million miles away, of course, but as the dust settles on the season, the Irishmen are chasing the pack rather than leading. And that’s a definite turnaround from where they were just a few months ago. If a week is a long time in politics, rugby fortunes similarly turn on a sixpence.

All’s not lost, however. There is an abundance of talent and experience in Irish rugby ready to deliver in Japan. The injuries to opensides Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien are sad and unfortunate, but there’s enough quality in Schmidt’s squad to fill the gaps. And the men in green definitely won’t lack for motivation in their desire to send esteemed coach and captain off into the sunset as winners. Irish rugby is down, but not out. They’ve long since discarded the underdog tag, but there remains a feeling that Ireland are still uncomfortable with excessive favouritism. With expectations lower than they’ve been in quite some time, Schmidt’s Ireland will, in fact, arrive in Japan in the perfect frame of mind.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

Roof Shut on Irish Ambitions!

I’m just back from a rugby trip to Cardiff; a quite delightful city even if the weather left much to be desired. I was over to see the Grand Slam game between Ireland and Wales at the Principality Stadium. Good times alright, despite an awful result from an Irish viewpoint. The build-up was dominated, of course, by ‘roofgate’.

Much has been made of Joe Schmidt’s contentious decision to keep the stadium roof open. A lot has been written and usually utter nonsense. Irish reluctance to play ball, so to speak, with the roof issue was attributed to concern over the conditions caused by the de facto indoor atmosphere when the roof is shut.

In fact, Irish opposition was more psychological than practical. And the rules of engagement here are simple. If your opponent asks you to do something, you do the precise opposite. It’s important not to cede an inch and do anything that gives your rival even the slightest advantage.

It’s like when Martin Johnson trod all over Mary McAleese’s lovely red carpet in 2003. The former England skipper’s actions were portrayed at the time as premeditated and deeply provocative; a deliberate snub to Ireland’s popular head of state. But it had bugger all to do with any of that.

Johnson’s men mistakenly found themselves on the wrong side following a balls up in pre-match organisation and protocol. However, when asked repeatedly to move, Johnson and his lieutenants famously held firm. To move in that situation is a sign of weakness. And the Lions legend doesn’t do weakness. The entire Irish army could have descended on Lansdowne Road that day and Johnson wouldn’t have budged. This is the mind-set Ireland were in before the Wales showdown.

In the end, it didn’t work. Wales adapted to the conditions and were infinitely superior on the day. From my vantage point, Ireland had only a handful of notable attacks and barely looked like scoring prior to Jordan Larmour’s late consolation. While the logic of Schmidt’s stubbornness is plain to see, the strategy backfired painfully. What Ireland’s roof decision betrayed, actually, was a lack of confidence in their ability to play in the closed conditions. Whether that’s true or not is a moot point. It’s what it looked like. That was the clear message delivered to the opposition.

The perceived decline in Ireland’s game has been much discussed and dissected lately. While overplayed, there’s indeed a discernible fall from a team that rose so magnificently to second in the world on the back of only its third Grand Slam in history and a maiden win over the All Blacks on home soil. What on earth has happened?

Actually, it’s not rocket science. Opponents have worked Ireland out. Ironically, the fall from grace is a direct consequence of success. Ireland are watched more closely than ever and cracks have appeared. Schmidt’s highly patterned and programmed game plan works brilliantly when winning the collisions and dominating the physical battle. Ireland are a fantastic front foot team and look awesome when settled into their rhythm.

What other teams have clocked is: match Ireland in the contact areas and force them onto the back foot and their game is severely disrupted. England set the template and everyone else followed suit. In fact, all the signature losses of the Schmidt era have followed this familiar theme. This team sometimes struggles to wrest back control when the game drifts away. Regaining initiative is an art form and one Schmidt’s side hasn’t quite mastered yet.

Momentum isn’t helped, moreover, when your two best players are misfiring. Johnny Sexton cut a deflated and annoyed figure on Saturday and urgently needs to find his form. Ireland’s half backs were well below their lofty standards throughout this championship and the malaise has affected the whole team. Criticism is as ignorant as it is unfair, however. The two lads are genuinely brilliant and will bounce back emphatically from this temporary setback. No doubt about that. It’s time to keep the faith.

That applies to us all. How quickly we jump off the bandwagon following a couple of off key performances. Joe Schmidt insists it’ll be alright at the World Cup and who are we to disagree. Ireland’s coaching master has earned our trust. He’s had blips before and come through stronger and wiser for the experience.

Of course, it’s better if Ireland had delivered more consistently this championship, but these things happen. Better to find out now than at the World Cup. Plenty of time left for Schmidt and his squad to find the answers they need before it all kicks off in Japan. And if they don’t? Well, it’s not the end of the world. These days we don’t have to look too far to put sport into proper perspective.

P.S. As I watched Cardiff erupt on Saturday and saw delirious fans dancing in torrential rain, I couldn’t help but contrast the jubilant scenes with the political wrangling occurring in the Welsh game presently. Rugby is Wales’s national sport, but you only understand that when you go there. After the final whistle, everyone I met (men, women, children, of all ages and classes) were celebrating the win. This is their team. Their sport. The pride was palpable. I’ve never seen anything like it. Food for thought for the WRU. If rugby can’t make the professional game work in Wales, we should give up. Because if rugby can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere.

 

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

 

 

 

 

Chastened Ireland Taught Important Lesson!

Chastened Ireland Taught Important Lesson!

How do we assess Irish rugby after the opening weekend of the Six Nations Championship and the emphatic defeat inflicted by a reborn and resurgent England. Are Ireland just not as good as we thought they were? Have we all got a little carried away by recent achievements? Have Irish rugby folk completely lost the run of themselves? Have our collective delusions of grandeur been ruthlessly exposed a few months out from the biggest show of them all? Does Joe Schmidt and his squad need to go back to the drawing board? Actually, none of the above!

Ireland lost on Saturday to a pumped up England, by far the better team on the day. It’s rugby. It’s sport. It happens. Granted, we Irish tend to be tad myopic about our sports teams, but this Irish side is the real deal. Its imperious record over the past year tells you just how darn good it is.

More interesting are the reasons behind England’s triumph. Eddie Jones’s men smashed Ireland several yards behind the gain line, continually thwarting Ireland’s bid for momentum. Schmidt’s multi-phase game plan is based on superiority in the contact areas and England bossed that aspect of the game comprehensively at the weekend. It’s hard to implement any sort of attacking strategy when you’re lagging so thoroughly in the physicality stakes.

Think of any of the big signature defeats of the Schmidt era: Argentina in the World Cup, New Zealand at home in 2016, the Six Nations reversals suffered against Gatland’s Wales. They all have one thing in common. Ireland came second best in the contact areas. Schmidt’s precision strategy is predicated on winning the collisions and this is a severe problem. England were truly immense in their physical prowess at the weekend.

Actually, I thought Ireland recovered quite well from England’s stratospheric start (inevitable as it was given last year’s events in Twickenham). When Cian Healy drove over for his deserved try, Ireland had seemingly withstood the early onslaught and wrested parity from the visitors. But it was Jones’s men who raised their game thereafter. And Ireland had no answer.

Each and every time Schmidt’s side took the ball forward, they were smashed back behind the gain line by a dominant and painfully  aggressive defensive unit. Sure, England flirted at times with illegality, but you could only admire the sheer doggedness and commitment of their efforts.

We certainly didn’t see this coming after November’s dizzy heroics. So, how do we explain the turnaround in fortunes? England were just class, we have to acknowledge that first and foremost. They are an immeasurably better team with the awesome Billy Vunipola leading from the front. And Owen Farrell is at last fulfilling his promise as one of the true modern greats of the game. He was simply mesmeric at the weekend. This was always a difficult assignment first up in the championship: a really strong England hell bent on revenge, equipped with a smart game plan and a massive team armed to implement it to near perfection. Fair play to them.

But Ireland haven’t suddenly become a bad team. Common sense tells us that. I’ve heard it postulated in the last few days that Ireland just can’t hack it in the physicality department against the really big sides, but I’m not buying that. Any team that can dominate New Zealand like Ireland did in the autumn has no such worries. They just lost to a bloody good team, fired up with fury and virtually at full strength. Such is life.

The English reverse is also a reflection of Ireland’s newly found, exalted status as one of the game’s leaders. It’s always easier chasing the pack than sitting with a large target on your back, waiting to be knocked off your lofty perch. But hey, that’s the price of success. Better to find out now than in Japan. There’s no reason to panic, though. Ireland must (and will) get better.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

Ireland Miles Ahead!

The late, great Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile barrier in 1954. He was the first athlete to break the much coveted record. Previously it had been assumed a nigh on impossible task. But Bannister believed in his ability and had the ambition, conviction and perseverance to make his dream happen. Lesser mortals crumbled, but Bannister stuck to his task and achieved greatness in the end. Inspiring isn’t the word.

But a curious thing then happened. Within six weeks the new record was broken. And within a decade, five other athletes had managed this once miraculous feat. Because Bannister had proved it was possible, the psychological barrier was removed. Sub four minute miles were no longer viewed as unachievable.

In much the same way, Irish rugby’s own psychological block in relation to the All Blacks is now lifted. Of course there was always the talent and potential to overcome the world’s best, but prior to that unforgettable evening in Chicago in 2016, there was no history, no precedent and no experience to draw on. Post Chicago, I ventured that we wouldn’t have to wait another century to beat New Zealand. So it has proved.

It’s just incredible to think how far Irish rugby has come. Those of us old enough to remember the irredeemably grim days of the 1990s scarcely believe what is happening. Three Six Nations titles-including a second Slam-, a first win over South Africa away from the auld sod, a first series win in Australia over three Tests and not one but two, yes two, wins over the double world champions. Even the golden generation didn’t come close to this. And now the man who masterminded the whole enterprise is off. Oh no! At least the exit was well signposted. Joe had the courtesy to prepare us, bless him!

I’m fascinated by the idea of difference between public and private personas. We know the public persona of Joe Schmidt. Witty, self-deprecating, engaging, erudite and even charming, almost avuncular at times. But there’s clearly another Joe, one the public doesn’t see. There’s Joe Schmidt the coach. I’ve never met the man but the players’ testimony reveals a clear picture of an extremely driven man: tough, uncompromising, exacting and ruthless. A winner.

The Kiwi’s often brutal Monday morning video review sessions are, of course, the stuff of rugby legend. One reason the Kiwis have struggled against Schmidt is they’ve been outwitted by one of their own. Joe thinks exactly the same way they do; he’s a hard working perfectionist who patently detests losing.

One word comes up consistently in any discussion about Ireland’s coach: detail. Schmidt imparts a wealth of detail and knowledge and expects players to do their homework in return. This approach insists on the highest standards, reflecting an Irish set-up that’s set a new benchmark in professionalism and preparation. Irish success over the past six years hasn’t happened by accident.

Although we still have him for another year, time is fast running out on the Schmidt era, with Ireland’s best ever coach stepping down after next year’s World Cup to take a much deserved break and spend some time with his family. Ireland’s highly regarded defence coach Andy Farrell has got the unenviable task of following the guru and while everyone associated with Irish rugby wishes him well, it’s hard to see Schmidt’s unprecedented success being replicated.

The former Rugby League star is a charismatic and capable coach, one who’s obviously gained the Schmidt seal of approval. He has, however, never been the main man and earns his promotion in the unforgiving glare of the international arena. It’s a tough ask but the steely Englishman is undoubtedly up for the challenge.

And the incoming head coach has the fortune of inheriting the greatest environment in Test Rugby and Irish rugby history. Schmidt’s set up is the envy of the rugby world and he leaves a legacy that will enrich the sport in Ireland for years to come. Farrell is taking charge of a young, fearless team, one that is teeming with ambition and focused firmly on continuing its remarkable run of success. Ireland’s young guns are far from finished and that is supremely exciting. The likes of James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale have years left in them.

But for all Farrell’s prospective riches, he has one hell of an act to follow. Because Ireland’s favourite Kiwi has taken Irish rugby into uncharted territory. Our best ever World Cup performance surely awaits next year. New Zealand remain the standard bearers and are still the most talented side in world rugby. However, in terms of preparation and professional standards, Schmidt’s Ireland are miles ahead of the competition.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

Image: @OvalDigest [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

God Save Queen!

I’ve always been a bit of a Queen fan. Therefore, I went to see the new biopic Bohemian Rhapsody with a fair degree of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because I was keen to see what they’d done with the movie after years in the pipeline, but trepidation because I hoped they’d made a movie worthy of the name. And, by the time I saw it, I’d read quite a few reviews. To say the reviews have been decidedly mixed is to be kind. However, it’s important not to pre-judge and I did my best to retain an open mind prior to viewing it.

For anyone who’s been put off by the lacklustre reception the movie’s received, I’ve some great news for you. The film is bloody marvellous! It emphatically exceeded my expectations and then some. First of all, Bohemian Rhapsody must be the product of the greatest piece of casting of all time. Gwilym Lee and Joseph Mazzelo are quite uncanny as Brian May and John Deacon respectively (honestly you have to see these performances to believe them!), even if Ian Beale’s son (actor Ben Hardy) isn’t quite right as Roger Taylor.

However, the most sensational performance of the film is delivered, quite appropriately, by the virtuoso Rami Malek. Malek’s performance is nothing sort of breathtaking, at once encapsulating Mercury’s rock god persona and peerless stage presence alongside his simultaneous vulnerability and frailty. It is a performance grounded in pathos. It would be so easy to go over the top with extravagance and flamboyance (and I’m sure that was the temptation) but Malek keeps his Mercury grounded and relatable at all times, while retaining that omnipresent sense of superstardom. It’s a delicate balancing act and one the American actor pulls off with aplomb.

Queen purists be warned, Bohemian Rhapsody plays fast and loose with some of the chronology, but I guess that’s a necessary evil to make the movie as pacey and coherent as it needs to be. The authenticity comes from the emotional trueness of the depiction of relationships within the band and in the faithful recreation of the live performances. Even if some facts are altered slightly and crucial episodes left out altogether, the genuineness of the narrative is always apparent and driven by the superb performances of the leads, especially Malek.

One of my concerns approaching this movie was my knowledge that May and Taylor are executive producers on the project, along with long time Queen manager Jim Beach. How can any individual be objective about his/her own life? Aren’t biopics and biographies always better served by independence in their production?

On the contrary, the presence of such impeccable first hand sources has only enhanced the authenticity and quality of this picture. And there are plenty of good documentaries out there for anyone who wants a less partisan perspective. First hand accounts from the protagonists involved in any project are always going to be a much different animal.

The alleged baddie of the piece (if there is one) is Mercury’s former manager/assistant Paul Prenter. Prenter comes across as a divisive figure and the instigator of considerable tension between Queen’s frontman and the rest of the band. Make of that what  you will. May and Taylor are on record as not being Prenter’s biggest fans, shall we say. Bohemian Rhapsody captures the dual source of Queen’s magic, the genius and innovation of their recording techniques (inspired as they were by their idols The Beatles) and the electric quality of their unrivalled stage performances. That unique chemistry and charisma shines through strongly.

Like any Hollywood movie, Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t without its cheap moments. One particular stinker comes when a heavily made up Mike Myers, when discussing the iconic single after which this biopic is eponymously named, explains to the band while debating its suitability as a single that you’ll never find kids head-banging to it. Grim stuff, I know! There are also some sequences of the band rehearsing in the studio that don’t quite work for me. Such is the nature of the beast. It’s inevitable that such a grand vision falls over in places.

Overall, though, Bohemian Rhapsody is a triumph of epic proportions. Whether a Queen fan or not, it would be hard not to enjoy this movie. Great songs, great performances and an inside perspective on a fascinating era of rock history. The film ends with a stunning recreation of Queen’s reviving Live Aid cameo set that evoked in me a nostalgic yearning for the grand old stadium.

But most of all, there’s Malek. It’s worth seeing this film for his mesmeric performance if nothing else. Prior to seeing Bohemian Rhapsody, I thought the personification of Mercury’s unique showmanship and talent was unrealistic. Many have imitated, but few have come close to capturing the brilliance of one of rock’s greatest ever performers. Malek has done the seemingly impossible, however, and massive credit is due for a career defining performance. But Bohemian Rhapsody is full of plentiful and unexpected delights. Heck, it’s worth going for the music alone!

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey