Bohemian Rhapsody

Tom’s Rating: 9/10 – Lucy’s Rating: 10/10.

The first 10/10 review on this blog comes from Lucy for Bohemian Rhapsody that had, I discovered this morning, pretty poor reviews from critics. Perhaps they expected too much, and perhaps they were playing off the controversies that surrounded the film’s production, but we really enjoyed this Queen biopic.

My favourite section of the film came a third of the way through, when the band retreats to a farm to record their latest album. Under the eaves of the old barn, the film managed to capture Mercury’s eccentricity and musical insight, the chiding ripostes between band members, and the maverick daring of Queen’s approach. It was funny, witty and, most of all, believable.

So too was the the relationship between Mercury and Mary Austin - the forever frustrated support strut to Freddie’s outlandish character. Both Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton gave compelling performances. As Mary watches Queen backstage at Live Aid, the whole jumble of emotions that defines their relationship swells over the music. She’s proud, truly in love with him, yet also personally hurt and oppressed by his brilliance. And it stands in contrast to the same character jealously peering through the glass in an earlier scene, as Mercury flirtatiously teases Bohemian Rhapsody to a radio host while sipping champagne.

What stopped me from giving the film 10/10 was the crass handling of Freddie Mercury’s time in Munich. Insistent on not being held back, Freddie loses his way and attempts to break off as a solo artist. The film’s portrayal of the hedonic, drug-fuelled partying and resultant decline in Mercury’s health was too predictable. And the controlling influence of Paul, who somehow manages to remove Freddy from Queen where others failed, felt overly cartoonish. Of course, Mercury did indulge in this rockstar lifestyle, but from a cinematic perspective I felt like I had seen it before.

In fact, what marked out some of the most engaging band moments in this film were the oddities of the British rock band – drinking tea from china cups on doilies in a chrome caravan behind the stage of Wembley, for instance. The stark differences in attitude between the three “background” members and Mercury were handled well, and it made the film that much more engaging.

Focussing too squarely on the accuracy and intimacy with which the film explores Mercury demands too much of what, for my money, was an enjoyable romp through the process and music of Queen. It is, in all honesty, sanitised. But that does not, in itself, preclude it from being a good film. The final and protracted concert scene was self-indulgent, but it’s what we came to see. No one in the screening got up when the credits came on, instead clinging to the music and archive footage of Mercury singing.

Yes, I am sure that there is a much better film to be told about Mercury himself - more sensitive, more gritty, more honest. But while you cannot escape the fact that Mercury is the centre of this film, it is not entirely dedicated to him. As a witty story about Queen’s rise, and the inevitable conflicts between its members, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson
Assistant Professor in Quantitative Comparative Politics

I am a political scientist studying representation, money in politics, and experimental/computational social science.