The highlights and drawbacks of Bohemian Rhapsody: A brilliant showcase despite historical inaccuracies


Alexa Melnitsky

It’s hard to talk about the band Queen without mention of its enigmatic lead singer and arguable face of the band, Freddie Mercury. A rock and roll icon, Mercury was known for his wide vocal range, songwriting abilities, and of course, his famous stage persona. These factors make for a perfect biopic about Mercury and Queen, which, after years of development, was finally released on November 2nd.


Entitled Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic has received a positive fan response, despite it’s mediocre reviews from critics. The biopic stars Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, who offers a performance that has been described as career defining. From his dialect, to his colloquialisms, mannerisms, and stage presence, Malek nails the part of Mercury and has received universal positive reviews for his portrayal. Gwilym Lee as guitarist Brian May, Ben Hardy as drummer Roger Taylor, and Joseph Mazzello as bassist John Deacon round out the casting to overall portray Queen, who conclude the film with an emulation of their legendary Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium in London in 1985.
Despite the on-par casting, Bohemian Rhapsody does have its drawbacks, especially in the name of historical accuracies. Though fact to fiction changes are expected when fact comes to Hollywood, numerous moments in the film were sensationalized too drastically solely for emphasis.
A change for dramatic effect, like Mercury conveniently meeting future band mates May and Taylor backstage at their show directly after the lead singer of their original band, Smile, left, is a historical change that is expected. In reality, Mercury already knew May and Taylor, actually sharing a flat with them, and was well known in the English music scene at the time. His joining of the band was not as spontaneous as shown in the film. Though inaccurate, this change did not affect the bands history and the rest of the movie – it was portrayed in this way for dramatic effect and due to the time crunch.
However, that was one of the few historical changes in the movie that was not drastic. There were many changes from fact to fiction that changed the timeline of the band.


On the silver screen, Mercury is portrayed as the reason behind Queen’s breakup in 1982 – he was offered a $4 million solo deal by CBS Records and took it, much to the dismay of the rest of the band. However, in reality, the whole band was burned out by 1982 after the release of their album Hot Space, and unanimously agreed that they needed a break. The other members had released solo material beforehand, and the band would often take short breaks. The break was not for 3 years with a dramatic reunion at Live Aid after not performing together for years, as the film suggested, but actually only for a few months, as they regrouped in 1983 to record the album Strange Frontier. When they did perform at Live Aid, they had just finished a tour only 8 weeks before, so they were still used to performing with each other. Along with Live Aid, another divisive pinnacle of the film, due to its portrayal, is when Mercury learns of his HIV diagnosis before Live Aid in 1985, and reveals his diagnosis to the rest of the band during a Live Aid rehearsal. However, in reality, Mercury did not know of his diagnosis until after the band’s 1986 Magic Tour and did not tell his friends and bandmates until 1987, according to Mercury’s partner Jim Hutton, and friend and fellow rock legend Elton John.
Though the public knew that Mercury’s health was declining by then late 80s, his AIDS diagnosis was not revealed to the public until November 23rd, 1991, one day before his death. This dramatic change of Mercury’s illness is one that is made in good intention for the movie, but angered Queen fans due to it’s complete timeline change. However, one part of the movie that was historically accurate was the risk taken by Queen over the song Bohemian Rhapsody. Nearly 6 minutes long, the band was told that it would never be a hit due to its length. Queen pushed the single regardless, and the legacy of Bohemian Rhapsody is now history. Regardless of the inaccuracies, the movie still is generally historically accurate – the story told in the movie will teach the audience about Queen’s history, and it does chronicle a generally accurate depiction of the bands history.


In regards to Mercury’s sexuality, a topic unfortunately still insensitively debated and sensationalized, the movie was able to tie it in without glossing over it or making it the center of the movie. Though the reveal of him being bisexual was executed rather cliche-like – a sensual stare between Mercury and a truck driver, comically played by modern day Queen frontman Adam Lambert, the movie was able to depict the struggle of Mercury coming to terms with his sexuality in a way that many can relate to. In a relationship with his short term fiancee Mary Austin, played by Lucy Boynton, Mercury came to terms with his bisexuality, to the distraught but not surprised Austin, who insisted he was gay (though the real life Mercury pursued relationships with men and women after Austin). Regardless of this reaction, Austin and Mercury remained lifelong friends, and Austin was often described by Mercury as the love of his life, emphasizing the journey of Mercury and his sexuality, and the eternal platonic friendship between him and Austin. Mercury’s sexuality is explored throughout the film – getting involved with his manager Paul Prenter, then ultimately meeting Jim Hutton, who was his partner until his death. His sexuality was not forced, and not brushed aside, but shown in a way that did not define Mercury but was clearly still an integral part of his life.


Bohemian Rhapsody comes full circle – it begins by following Mercury backstage before the legendary Live Aid performance, in his famous white top, blue jeans, and adidas shoes, about to go onstage, and ends with a nearly 20 minute long monumental recreation of that same performance, featuring multiple full length songs actually performed by Queen at the real event, such as We Are the Champions, Radio Ga Ga, and Bohemian Rhapsody. The movie itself illustrates the conception and performance of many Queen hits, including Another One Bites the Dust, We Will Rock You, I’m In Love With My Car, Love of My Life, and of course, a highlight of the film, the titular Bohemian Rhapsody. A comical nod to Wayne’s World by fictional music executive Ray Foster, comically played by Mike Myers, adds to the legacy of the song as well as the quality. Other Queen hits included in the soundtrack were Under Pressure with fellow rock legend David Bowie and The Show Must Go On.


Overall, the film brilliantly illustrates the life of Mercury and Queen, regardless of the historical inaccuracies. As a Queen fan, the movie did not feel rushed or cut, even with the change in timeline. Being able to see Queen hits on the big screen was exciting and enticing, and made the audience feel like they were right there in the crowd. Malek’s portrayal of Mercury was spot on and approved by the remaining Queen bandmates and Mercury’s family. Malek deserves numerous Oscar nods for this performance, and it is universally agreed that an absence of Oscar recognition for his portrayal of Mercury would be surprising. The rest of the band was portrayed entertainingly as well, and the addition of the nearly full length Live Aid performance at the end was thrilling and well done.
If you’re a huge Queen fan who is looking for an extremely accurate historical portrayal of Queen, including the dark side of Mercury, and will be prepared to rip into the inaccurate timeline, this movie is not for you. However, if you just want to see a general history of Queen and Mercury regardless of how big of a fan you are, and will enjoy Queen’s hits on the big screen along with a generally accurate, approved portrayal of the band, this is the movie for you. It delineates a range of emotional pull – from sympathy for shy Mercury when he first wants to join Taylor and May’s band (to their initial disbelief), to feeling triumph for Mercury when he tells off the narrow-minded record label executive who doesn’t want to release Bohemian Rhapsody as a single, to happily supporting Mercury and Austin’s relationship, but having the inner feeling of dread when you know that Mercury is bisexual and is initially hiding it from Austin. You’ll feel happy for Queen when they get the news that they’re going on a sold out tour across the United States, exasperated when Mercury chooses the $4 million solo deal over Queen, frustrated when Mercury’s manager, Paul, continues to shut him out from his band mates and purposefully does not tell him about Live Aid. You’ll get annoyed at Mercury’s friends and bandmates for leaving him more alone. You’ll root for Austin and Mercury’s friendship as they push through the obstacles of Mercury’s life, be sorrowful when Mercury starts to cough up blood, becoming visibly more ill and learns of his diagnosis, feel inspired when he states how he’s going to push through his disease, and feel elated when Queen agrees to reunite for Live Aid. You’ll feel overjoyed when Mercury leads the Live Aid crowd in a series of vocal repetitions, and as the band colassaly kills their Live Aid performance. You may cry, at a series of moments.
Bohemian Rhapsody offers a generally accurate depiction of the formation and apex of Queen and Mercury’s life. It highlights a plethora of reactions of events in Queen’s legacy, and offers stunning visuals of the flashy on and off stage life of Queen in the 70s and 80s. Though critiqued for it’s PG perspective of Mercury’s life (the drug abusing, partying Mercury was only alluded to in the film), it honestly didn’t need to be more exposing of his life. The allusion was just enough to allow the audience to understand what Mercury was doing without turning the film into a showcase of the “typical rock star life.” This is a celebration of Mercury’s life, ending the movie on a high note rather than the unfortunate end that Mercury faced, and a celebration of Queen. Malek flawlessly transforms into Mercury and offers the closest thing to Mercury that modern day will get, and Lee, Hardy, and Mazzello help to portray the peak of the band that many have grown to love.  Bohemian Rhapsody offers a timeless adaptation of the legend that is Freddie Mercury, and the legendary band that is Queen.