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

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