Until I was about 13 years old, I wanted to be Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski.
Then I was introduced to the music of Queen. I think the first Queen song I ever heard was “Killer Queen,” but what really made an impression upon me was the Night at the Opera album, which I first heard in……chemistry class? For reasons I don’t remember, Mr. Hoag let us listen to music in his class. I was struck originally, not just by Bohemian Rhapsody, but by Brian May’s Mercury-like “The Prophet’s Song,” which featured a similar multi-echo middle section. From then on, Queen was my favorite band, and I wanted to be Freddie Mercuy, so I feel well qualified to review the Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic, which has fared better at the box office than it has with the critics.
The two main complaints about the film from critics is that it takes liberties with the band’s story and that it whitewashes Mercury’s over indulgences, both sexual and chemical, that ultimately led to his untimely death from AIDS-related complications in 1991. Both complaints are accurate, but both miss the point. The biggest gap between the real life Queen story and the movie is probably the run up to Queen’s triumphant appearance at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in 1985. In the movie, Mercury breaks up the band to go solo, then begs them to allow him to rejoin to do Live Aid. In fact, he never left Queen. They recorded two albums between Mercury’s 1983 solo album “Mr. Bad Guy” and Live Aid. The reason Queen wasn’t originally invited to do Live Aid is because they had played at Sun City in South Africa, defying an apartheid-inspired boycott by most musical artists. Also, the film shows Mercury learning he had AIDS right before Live Aid, when in fact, he wasn’t diagnosed until two years later. As far as Mercury’s personal life and sexuality, we see him fall in love with Mary Austin, then eventually realize that while she was the love of his life and soul mate, she could not fulfill his sexual needs. We see him enter a sexual relationship with Jim Hutton that would last, as would his friendship with Mary Austin, until the end of his life. If the producers decided that a film with no overtly sexual scenes would play better to a mainstream audience, I have no problem with that.
Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of a band that defied convention at every turn, and went on to worldwide success on their own terms. We see them in the studio, trying everything to get a unique sound. We see Freddie, played by hands-down Oscar Best Actor Rami Malek, trying to explain to his band mates the sounds he heard in his head that would become Bohemian Rhapsody. We see Queen insist that despite its six minute length, that Bohemian Rhapsody would become a radio hit. We see them take the stage at Live Aid, wondering if their time had passed, only to have the force of Mercury’s personality take them to new heights. Malek looks like Freddie, moves like Freddie and IS Freddie. The actors who play guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor will satisfy the lifetime Queen fan or the newcomer.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a story of triumph and of beating the odds to produce music that will live forever. Go see it!
The title of this review comes from the lyric of “The Seven Seas of Rhye” from Queen II. The first rock concert I saw in my life was Queen at Boston Garden 41 years ago tonight.