Rest assured that from the first moment we see Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek with prosthetic teeth) onscreen in the Oscar-nominated Bohemian Rhapsody, on the morning of Queen’s 1985 Live Aid reunion performance, he is undeniably gay. This was during Mercury’s clone-look era, complete with mustache, short and neat haircut, studded leather armband and tight, faded jeans. Gay, gay, gay. Anything you might have heard about Mercury’s gayness being whitewashed is bollocks.
While there are certain charming elements that indicate how committed the filmmakers were to make this movie – the Queen-style guitar used in the 20th Century Fox intro, for example – there are places where the movie is shockingly incorrect. Chronology, for example, is an important element when it comes to biopics. How screenwriter Anthony McCarten (Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything and Churchill biopic The Darkest Hour) could have possibly put the genesis story of the foot-stomps/handclaps of 1977’s “We Will Rock You” after 1980 will leave some audience members, especially Queen fanatics, gobsmacked.
Following the Live Aid opening, Bohemian Rhapsody takes us back to 1970 when Freddie was still living at home, known as Farrokh to his parents and sister, and working as a baggage handler at Heathrow. Out every night, to his father’s disappointment, Freddie is a follower of the band Smile, featuring Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). After their lead singer debunks, Freddie joins the band, crowns it with the name Queen, and the rest is musical history.
That musical history, with an emphasis on Freddie’s personal story is the basis for Bohemian Rhapsody. An early proponent of the gender-fuck glam approach to style, Freddie meets boutique clerk Mary (Lucy Boynton), and the two are smitten. They begin a relationship, although the scene in which they first encounter each other does include Freddie cruising and being cruised by a guy. This, of course, is an ongoing theme. Even after he proposes to Mary, Freddie is engaging in same-gender sexual activity. Cruising a truck-stop men’s room while on tour with Queen or becoming involved with his personal manager Paul (Allen Leech). With that in mind, the scene in which Freddie eventually comes out to Mary is handled with sense and sensitivity.
As Mercury comes to terms with his sexuality, Queen is on its meteoric rise from bar band to packed stadiums. The creative process, including the recording of the band’s first album, as well as the commercial requirements, such as meeting with EMI executive Ray Foster (who hated the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”) are all part of the story. As anyone familiar with Queen knows, the mercurial Mercury is the focus and Malek does an admirable job of embodying the front man, whether delivering Freddie’s witty and sharp-tongued retorts or strutting across a stage singing his heart out for all to hear.
While he didn’t always live by his father’s “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds” credo, Mercury eventually did rise to the occasion, setting aside the destructive behavior and animosity the threatened to dethrone Queen. The film’s final moments, a recreation of Queen’s legendary Live Aid performance, is nothing short of thrilling.
Blu-ray / DVD special features include the complete Live Aid movie performance that was not seen in the theatrical version, and three featurettes – “Rami Malek: Becoming Freddie,” “The Look and Sound of Queen,” and “Recreating Live Aid.” Rating: B-minus.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.