Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Moralising, heteronormative rubbish. Bohemian Rhapsody really serves its nominal subject very poorly indeed.

“No-one knows what Queen means because it doesn’t mean one thing”

Most everything you need to know about Bohemian Rhapsody is contained within the fact that Brian May and Roger Taylor were engaged as consultants on the film, intimately connected enough to be able to steer the direction of the movie in the way that they wanted. And so any hope of an independently-minded biography of queer icon Freddie Mercury disappeared behind a PG-friendly hagiography of Queen.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter. The film scored huge commercial, if not critical, success, snagging 4 Academy Awards along the way, but it still doesn’t make it right. How are you going to put your name to a film that is filled with inaccuracies? Because those inaccuracies put yourself in a better light, allowing you to show that you were tolerant of Mercury’s sexual proclivities and later AIDS diagnosis but that you were a finger-wagging Cassandra at his pursuit of a life outwith the heteronormative.

So the result is a rather disingenuous piece of moralising straight propaganda, basically damning Mercury for bringing AIDS on himself. If only he’d followed the path of the saintly May and Taylor…and thus the film leaves a bad taste in the mouth. If you’re a Queen fan, then the fan service of extended karaoke breaks will doubtless please you, though they stymie the narrative flow. And Rami Malek’s lead performance is increasingly good as the film progresses.

But it is a rare biographical exercise that is effective and honest when its subjects are involved with its genesis, the boldness needed to make this a striking piece of queer art is singularly lacking. And for all the directorial shenanigans (Bryan Singer was sacked weeks before it was completed with Dexter Fletcher stepping in), there’s little evidence that there was any interest in creating such a thing, rather cementing the legacy that May and Taylor have dictated should be told. 

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