Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy? Well, folks, I’m sorry to burst your bubbles, but it’s more the latter than the former. Taking a little dramatic license with the truth to make a film more cinematic can be done effectively. Taking a sledgehammer to the facts and oversimplifying almost every detail? That’s when you have to walk away with your head down. Anyone who outright loves this film should sit down and read the paragraphs of inaccuracies and misleading alterations that Bohemian Rhapsody is guilty of making. They’d be shocked at how fast and loose the films with even the chronology of Mercury’s life and Queen’s success—basic facts that you’d presumably want a biopic to get right. It’s not just about making a real-life story look “good” for the screen. It’s also about trusting your audience, and being frank with them when the true story gets a bit messy. Skip over the less eventful bits if need be. It’s better than taking a permanent marker and inserting fallacious nonsense in the margins.
The only redeemable moment in the film is the Live Aid concert, which is also the only time I felt Rami Malek truly become Freddie Mercury. The physicality is mostly there, and he lip synchs with aplomb. If you squint, you could just about fool yourself into seeing Mercury reincarnated, and I guess that’s about the best compliment I can muster for Malek, who is otherwise hampered by a script (and teeth) that don’t fit him. He tries very hard to do his best, swaggering and smirking with that devilish camp that Mercury enveloped around him. Sadly, the effort is nearly wasted when the film is more interested in silently berating Mercury for his queerness. Yes, the accusations of straightwashing are somewhat inaccurate, as the film does not hide his sexuality. What it does instead is make it his Achilles’ heel that leads him astray from his “true family” (his bandmates). You can see May, Taylor, et al.’s fingerprints all over this in the way that Allen Leech’s character becomes a one-dimensional villain, namely an extremely possessive gay man who “lures” Freddie into the darkness of orgies, nightclubs, and excess. You can tell how much they hated him, and what sweet revenge it was to spit on his grave and chastise their late friend for falling into his trap. You can hear them clucking their tongues and saying, “Oh, if only Freddie wasn’t so gay and did what we told him, he might still be with us.”
Dressed in black and constantly framed to sit on Freddie’s left shoulder like a devil, the treatment of Leech’s character is about as laughable as how Mercury’s own boyfriend is treated, with only a smattering of lines and even less depth to compensate. It seems fidelity to the historical record is only important up to a point. People may have existed, but if they don’t serve the narrative you’re trying to push, they might as well be window dressing, like Jim Hutton ends up being. In fact, this film is nothing but window dressing, arranging and rearranging the legend of Freddie Mercury so that it becomes an even larger myth. It does it competently enough to fool the unsuspecting and deliver reasonable entertainment value. Treating this as the definitive take on Freddie Mercury’s life, however? That’s one grim proposition, and I hope that won’t be the case.