Released: 1st November
Seen: 26th October (Advance Screening)
I want to start with a simple declarative statement of fact. Everyone’s favourite band is Queen. I know you’re going to say “Mine isn’t, mine is (Insert the wrong answer here)” but just be honest, every single person on the planet loves Queen in some form. You know at least 5 of their songs, you’ve sung We Will Rock You on the school bus, you bang your head to the song that this movie borrows its title from, they’re everyone’s favourite band and that’s the end of that discussion. This leads us to ask why it’s taken so long for Hollywood to make a biopic out of them, this film has been stuck in development hell for eight years. Sacha Baron Cohen was going to be Freddie, but he bailed due to creative differences, then it was going to be Ben Whishaw but he was also replaced by Rami Malek who gets the honour of saying that he brought Freddie Mercury to the screen and god damn it did he bring him to the screen.
The story of the film mostly follows Freddie, starting as a fanboy of a local band called Smile. He joins the band and they become Queen and we follow their journey from the small band playing in pubs to the legends we know and love today. We follow them as they create the epic Bohemian Rhapsody and struggle to get it on the air. We follow them recording several albums and going on tours, all while Freddie comes to terms with his sexuality which drives a wedge between him and his girlfriend. We basically follow the band from the day they were conceived until the iconic Live Aid concert, seeing all the twists and turns on the way… well, most of them anyway.
Of all the problems for this film to have, length is the biggest of them all. This is Queen. This is goddamn Queen who blew everyone away by putting a six-minute long epic on the radio and we have to brisk through their story in a clean and standard two hour-long biopic? There are so many moments in this film that feel like it’s begging for us to linger and see more, see the tour shenanigans or see the home lives of the three other band members or Freddie’s trips to a gay bar but we’re given more montages than a 24-hour long loop of the Rocky movie. There are so many montages and each one tries to be visually different, to the point where they ran out of visual ideas and just borrowed the opening visuals from Xanadu which is not the best source to borrow visuals from. If there was ever a band that begged for a three or four hour-long film, it’s Queen. If Queen were known for anything it was their ability to be bigger than life itself, to throw in everything they had until there was nothing else left to give and the biopic of them is a brisk two-hour long jaunt? This should be the longest and most grand movie I’ve seen this year, it’s not even the longest movie I’ve seen this month.
What it does with the time it has got is pretty great. The performances are top notch, Rami Malek inhabits the very spirit of Freddie and you feel like you get to watch the legend perform one more time. Every nuance, every look, he nails it with an expert grace that carries the film as it’s running towards that final concert. The rest of the band members are also wonderfully played. Gwilym Lee as Brian May is a genuine delight, he just exudes confidence and manages to make Brian May’s hair look natural. Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor is snarky in all the best ways, possibly the one who butts heads with Freddie the most and he plays it well. Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon manages to make him interesting, even though he was the quiet one. They are all great in their roles and perfectly cast but we get next to no time with them, in part thanks to the obscenely short running time. We get hints of their personal lives, a brief appearance by their partners and mentions of kids but we never really follow them, we’re only following Freddie and even though he is the main draw, I wanted more of the band. Again, this is why a two-hour film does not do this band justice.
For those worried that they might not mention Freddie’s sexuality or his AIDS diagnosis or the cocaine parties, I assure you it’s all in there. Even with a short run time, the film makes sure to honour the reality of these people’s lives. While it’s certainly not as explicit as it could’ve been, it doesn’t shy away from the queerness of Freddie. They do not make him straight, they do not pretend that he was pure, they make him very explicitly gay/bi (Freddie says bi, his girlfriend says gay, I’m fine with that being open to interpretation) and they make sure that his actual life partner Jim Hutton is in the film and explicitly is Freddie’s partner so no need to be concerned there. They made sure that the Freddie we love is the one they put on screen. Sure, some purists will look at the film and go “Hang on, Freddie had a different haircut during this era of the band” but it’s not a big deal. Again, the film is compressed so some things have to change.
On the whole, the film is good. It’s no masterpiece but it has its moments. Rami Malek is genuinely perfection as Freddie and the Live Aid sequence is worth the price of admission alone. Its big problem is that it’s rushed. It’s a little bit like listening to a three-minute long version of the song Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s still really good but you know there’s a lot more amazing things missing and you can feel their loss. Still, go see this film, you’ll have a good time. Just don’t expect this to be the truly great epic film that you were hoping for.
Let me know if you enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody, or just your general favourite Queen song, down in the comments.