Farrokh Bulsara was an insecure man. He didn’t enjoy discussing his background. He was uncomfortable about his Indian Parsi roots and immigrant parents. He was conscious of his conspicuous overbite. He was confused about his sexuality. He sought a special identity. He changed his name and never stopped reincarnating.
Farrokh Bulsara wasn’t another young bloke trying to fit in or be cool. He was a charismatic figure consumed by his music and melancholy. Someone who not only understood his art but revelled in it.
Music empowered him and while he was in studio or stage, his insecurities ceased to matter. But he belonged to a time that shamed his desires and fuelled his anxiety leading to both — intense isolation and chartbusting creativity.
A legend of the latter whose steady supply of anthems made us feel, free and fly.
To the world he was Freddie Mercury, the flamboyant frontman of Queen. A band he not only named, but also imprinted with his eccentricity until Queen was Freddie Mercury and Freddie Mercury was Queen. Through his extraordinary talent, he created an identity so larger-than-life; nobody could resist or deny its might.
Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates it to the hilt in this glorious, unabashed love song to the man and his music.
Its compromised accuracy, dramatic licences and often distant, demure documentation of Mercury’s intimacies — repeated biopic offenders — cannot not draw me away from the magnificent passion of Queen’s music making or Rami Malek’s meditative brilliance and ballsy embodiment of the British singer’s soul and showmanship.
Bohemian Rhapsody, which retains director Bryan Singer’s credit even after he was fired over his unprofessionalism and replaced by Dexter Fletcher for the final leg of production, plays by the numbers. It is what the music label executive (a scruffy Mike Myers) recommends, ‘Formulas work. Let’s stick to formula.’
Keeping that tradition, the film follows Mercury’s meteoric rise in scenes that quickly tick off chapters of his early life — baggage handler at Heathrow airport, victim of racism, aloof family ties, bumping into his future band mates Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), impressing them with his incredible vocal range and an instant connection to the woman (Lucy Boynton) he deeply loves and looks up to.
It is a dissatisfying context towards an epic life that won’t matter to fans who already know everything, fans who don’t mind the liberties and fans who respect Mercury’s wish to ‘want people to work out their own interpretation of me and my image’.
Truth be told, Bohemian Rhapsody, mirroring the character of the most eclectic song of Mercury’s career, changes its tone and texture as per whim.
Essentially though it is two stories — a musician who really cares about his craft and connecting to his audience and the difficulty of being homosexual in a conservative era.
Continuously dangling between enthused and confused, Mercury engages in (surprisingly downplayed) hedonistic activities to distract his mind, masquerade his frustration. His amused, unruffled surface betrays the hostility he encounters or the illness he conceals. But his writings trace his anguish — I’m easy come, easy go, little high, little low.
‘Come to me when you learn to love yourself,’ a future lover tells Mercury. Even at its most rocky, it is interesting to note how Mercury’s romantic relationships shape him. Somewhere his original insecurities still haunt him and allow people to assert their influence for better or worse.
Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t dwell in it too much, but Rami Malek’s forlorn eyes and needy body language captures it to precision. He is unbelievably good at evoking Mercury’s electric stage energy as well. From big haired androgynous rockstar in shiny bodysuits of the 1970s to cropped hair, chevron moustached, vests and jeans clad performer rocking the 1980s, the actor is simply livewire.
I challenge you to not feel anything but tears and goose bumps at the end of its awe-inspiring finale, a breathtaking recreation of the 1985 Live Aid concert.
The drama leading to that moment is mostly made up. The drama to follow is pure magic. Bohemian Rhapsody‘s crowd-pleasing nostalgia cheers Freddie Mercury’s exhilarating sound and infectious power play with such all-out gusto, you WILL break free all over again.