Bohemian Rhapsody

 

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The long-awaited biopic of Freddie Mercury and Queen is just as broad, extravagant and crowd-pleasing as the band it immortalises.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

They will rock you: Gwilym Lee and Rami Malek

  

It’s one of the most dramatic stories in the history of rock’n’roll. It’s a love story, a tragedy, a greatest hits album and, above all, a zip-line ride encompasing family, heritage, music, fame, sexuality, betrayal and, ultimately, triumph – the latter in front of a global audience of 1.5 billion people. Being awards season, movie biographies are rattling out of the multiplex, from First Man and Bohemian Rhapsody this month to the upcoming Outlaw King (about Robert the Bruce), White Boy Rick and, in the new year, cinematic profiles of Queen Anne, Laurel & Hardy, Mary, Queen of Scots, Dick Cheney and Van Gogh. Of course, music biogs have a somewhat unfair advantage, for if there’s ever a lull in the narrative, there’s nothing like a rousing standard to raise one’s sugar level. And here there are more foot-stamping hits than you can cram into one movie. Although with so many throat-catching moments, it may have been too much to hear Freddie Mercury duet on the top-ten single ‘Barcelona’ with the soprano Montserrat Caballé, the latter having only died this month.

 

As it is there are more emotionally-charged scenes here than in any film this year, magnified by an array of wet-eyed reaction shots, low-key performances and that constantly irresistible beat of Roger Taylor’s drum set. The only actor allowed to strut his stuff and preen his feathers is, naturally, Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. “Roger, there's only room in this band for one hysterical queen,” Malek simpers. And he is terrific – and probably a far more sensible choice than Sacha Baron Cohen, who was originally cast way back in 2010. As the group’s lawyer Jim Beach, even Tom Hollander is powder keg dry for once, so that when he utters one word – “Miami” – the screen ignites (you’ll have to see the movie to know why). In fact, every performance is virtually note perfect, particularly from the band members themselves: Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as an angelic Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon. Even the one household name in the film is an inspired piece of casting: an unrecognisable Mike Myers as the Scottish EMI executive Ray Foster, who just doesn’t get ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (he doesn’t understand the references and can’t even pronounce ‘rhapsody’). Of course, one of Myers’ own most iconic moments on screen was as Wayne Campbell headbanging his way through ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the car stereo in Wayne’s World.

 

In spite of the much-publicised departure of the director Bryan Singer – in light of his reported ‘absenteeism’ – the end product does not appear to have suffered. The director and former actor Dexter Fletcher took up the baton, drawing on his own experience with the film musical, following his critically lauded Sunshine on Leith (2013). In fact, after Rhapsody, Fletcher went on to direct the Elton John biopic Rocketman, with Taron Egerton. In any case, what Fletcher and Singer have unleashed between them is a stomping, crowd-pleasing event of a film. Once one has accepted the Californian Rami Malek as the Zanzibar-born baggage-handler from India, the spirit of the singer-songwriter’s dream takes flight. Freddie Mercury was quite a character and Bohemian Rhapsody brings his extraordinary story vividly to life.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Michelle Duncan, Max Bennett, Meneka Das, Ace Bhatti, Dickie Beau, Dermot Murphy, Priya Blackburn.

 

Dir Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher, Pro Graham King and Jim Beach, Screenplay Anthony McCarten, from a story by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan, Ph Newton Thomas Sigel, Pro Des Aaron Haye, Ed John Ottman, Music John Ottman, Costumes Julian Day.

 

20th Century Fox/New Regency/GK Films/Queen Films-20th Century Fox.

134 mins. UK/USA. 2018. Rel: 24 October 2018. Cert. 12A.