Social Justice Issues: LGBTIQ.HIV.AIDS
Director: Dexter Fletcher/Bryan Singer
Lead Actor: Rami Malek
Other Leads: Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy)
Short Review: Before they met Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor had a band nobody cared about. With Mercury they became one of the biggest bands in history. It’s clear that for Mercury, fame was not always as fun as he’d hoped.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a safe, competent, decidedly non-scandalous biopic. ‘It treats the life of Freddie Mercury with cautious affection, happy to play within the rules when depicting a man who did anything but. In struggling to make a saleable PG-13 movie out of an R-rated rock life, Bohemian Rhapsody leaves you feeling that something essential and elemental is missing. Thankfully the music keeps filling in the holes in the script by Anthony McCarten, and Malek is high on the list for best film performance of 2018. He digs so deep into the role that we can’t believe we’re not watching the real thing!
On set, the actor sang out the throat-straining vocals in his own voice so that, in take after take, the lip-synching would match up perfectly and erase any taint of bad Karaoke. Mixing his voice with vocals from Queen and Mercury soundalike Marc Martel, the star is pow personified.
Malek also wore fake teeth to capture the four extra incisors in Mercury’s upper jaw that the singer insisted gave him more power and range. And he nails the front man’s sexual bravado on stage. All Queen’s main hits are there including ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, an unprecedented, six-minute mix of rock and opera that delighted Mercury even as critics decried it.
The film’s most daring conceit, a scrupulous recreation of the band’s 20-minute appearance at the last Live Aid concert from London’s Wembley Stadium packs a tremendous punch. Many have called it the greatest live performance in the history of rock. The scene captures something crucial about Queen’s connection to an audience, as Mercury leads an elaborate call-and-response with his fans. Mercury never forgets his audience. He actively seeks their involvement.
So the film is sanitised. The raw edge of Mercury’s confusion regarding his sexual orientation is not totally exposed but it’s there by suggestion.
Initially, Mercury was secretive and conflicted by his sexuality. He certainly loved Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) even though he became increasingly attracted to men. It’s significant that Mercury left Austin the bulk of his fortune in his Will. No similar authenticity seeps into the scenes of Mercury’s hedonistic gay lifestyle as a party giver, participating in orgies that were extremely wild.
Mercury’s sex life and HIV diagnosis are dealt with briefly, watched in quiet montage, telling audiences no more than they already know. As Empire Magazine states, ‘The film has the gentle innuendo of an obituary rather than the inquisitiveness of a biography.” Perhaps that was the screenwriter’s aim? to allude to the truth rather than spell it out. That was Mercury really throughout his life: he had the gift of imagination with an element of mystery. Do we really need to see the total concrete drama?
Dianne Helen Edwards