Image courtesy of Alex Bailey TM

Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Despite its flaws, Bohemian Rhapsody is a loving and faithful celebration of Queen, Freddie and all their melodic majesty.

Nov 17, 2018

3 out of 5 stars
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
A convenient coincidence for me, the introductory lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody manage to capture a question that never quite disappears from my mind. As the similarly named cinematic biography of the rock band Queen plays on screen, I wonder, how real is it?
Microphones, spotlights, sweat bands and Pepsi cups — Bohemian Rhapsody kicks off its chronicle of Queen with Freddie Mercury stretching for the sky toward a billion viewers. He then eases into a piano seat, looking at the crowd and preparing to unleash Queen’s most iconic rock concert of all time at Live Aid. The sheer detail in the replication of the scene is astonishing — they even got the Pepsi stains on Freddie’s piano right. Visually, the film owns its setting. It has the flair and the confidence of the seventies and eighties, and has invested enough resources to painstakingly recreate many of Queen’s performances. The audience can almost feel the filmmakers’ glee at their chance to recreate Queen’s story.
Though it seeks to chart Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody is as much the story of Freddie Mercury as it is of the whole band — the movie devotes most of its long runtime in portraying his character, his relationships, his growing fame and his evolving understanding of his sexuality. Rami Malek slides right into Freddie Mercury and dominates every scene, supported by an equally stellar cast coruscating off his brilliance. Not only is his visual similarity to Freddie remarkable, but he also replicates Freddie’s drawl perfectly. Malek also reproduces Freddie’s concert performances with unerring accuracy, capturing the legendary singer’s powerful presence on stage. As much a victory anthem as We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody is a tribute to Queen’s achievements as one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.
Despite all this effort to keep true to Queen’s story, however, the movie’s pace in the first half undercuts the power of its narrative. It races back in time to Freddie laboring under suitcases just before the Live Aid concert starts, and then shuttles the audience to when he watches Smile — Queen’s name before they were Queen — play in a pub and asks to join the band. Five minutes later, Freddie and the newly minted Queen are on the road and convince music agent John Reid to sign them on. A few more minutes, and they have a hit single under their belts. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of motion sickness.
Given that Bohemian Rhapsody tried to pack Freddie Mercury’s lifetime into two hours and 13 minutes, the necessity of this pace is understandable. Yet by providing just a glimpse of Queen’s beginning, the film loses a lot of the emotional power in the scenes where Queen threatens to break up. All the members make references to how they are a “family,” but the film does not show enough in the beginning about how they evolved from a bunch of misfits making music together to an acclaimed musical family. Bohemian Rhapsody treats Queen’s later success as a historical fact, but does not adequately illustrate how Queen reached that success. The rest of the film is therefore a fantasy based in reality, where the audience goes along with the idea that Queen’s success is deserved just because it happened. Thus the question, was this in storytelling terms, the real life of Queen?
Bohemian Rhapsody is fueled by a love for Queen and Freddie Mercury. Yet it is this very love and nostalgia that stops the film from standing tall as a work of art itself. As Queen fans, our pain at Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis and our awe and ecstasy as he rocks Live Aid are already there. But rather than generating these emotions, the film merely relies on them already being there, which feels like a cheap trick. If only Bohemian Rhapsody were longer and delved deeper into the band’s origin, it would successfully jump over the threshold of cinematic greatness. Its narrative structure would be complete and the emotions we felt during the film would be natural.
If you don’t know Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody might not work for you, though the music definitely will. But if you love Queen, catch it before it blinks out of cinemas. Despite its flaws, Bohemian Rhapsody is a loving and faithful celebration of Queen, Freddie and all their melodic majesty.
Bhrigu Bhatra is a contributing writer. Email him at
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