Bohemian Rhapsody

by Toby Woollaston

bohrhapAs a tousle-haired bedroom-poster-hanging teen of the eighties and nineties, the news of Freddie Mercury’s death came to me as quite a shock. Love him or not, there is no denying Queen had an omnipresent quality that seared their sound on the musical psyche of the masses. So, a film that explores this phenomenon was always going to be a very personal journey for many.

Bohemian Rhapsody has suffered its fair share of setbacks with Directorial changes and the much-publicised departure of Sacha Baron Cohen as Mercury’s original casting, who left after creative differences. It is a troubled film that feels like it bears the weight of a troubled upbringing … but hey, that’s rock’n’roll for you.

Spanning the formation of the band in the early seventies to their famously celebrated performance at Live Aid in the eighties, the film covers a lot of ground … and avoids a lot as well. When Mercury states his desire to not be the poster boy for AIDS but instead to be remembered for his art, the film makes clear its stance. His sexuality, which clearly played a big part in his life, is never entirely explored and while it is not ignored, you get the feeling that complexities are tip-toed around rather than confronted head-on.

But before you think Cohen’s warts’n’all rendition might’ve been the better angle, the film’s conventional yet crowd-pleasing antics catch you off guard with a medley of well choreographed scenes. Rami Malek’s performance as the flamboyant troubadour is excellent and he superbly cuts a desperately lonely figure of Mercury offstage as well as captures his majestic energy onstage.

Bohemian Rhapsody will most likely split its audience into two camps. If you’re after a stirring account of Queen’s musical life then this one is for you.  However, if you’re after an authentic retelling of Mercury’s off-stage life then you’ll be let down.  Yes, it’s entertaining, even euphoric in parts, but as a deep dive into the rock icon’s life this biopic is disappointingly safe.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.