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Queen is without question one of the most recognizable and revered rock groups of all time. With numerous chart-topping hits and a lead singer who defied stereotypes and sang like no other, the history of Queen was ripe for a movie adaptation. Although the general critic consensus does not match that of the ecstatic audience reception of the film, the $50 million domestic box office pull speaks for itself: The film is a success.
The formula of the film is familiar. We follow lead singer and face of Queen, Freddie Mercury, from when he was just getting his start as a professional singer, to the group’s legendary performance at Live Aid ’85. Actor Rami Malek plays Mercury so convincingly that it is easy to forget he is not the man himself.
Malek steals the show, albeit at the cost of some star recognition from the rest of the cast. His fellow bandmates are not the focus of the movie, and as intentional as that may have been, they are left in the shadows of Mercury. A bit more character building to hall-of-fame guitarist Brian May, would have helped the bandmates feel less like extras.
The same could not be said about the relationship between Mercury and his supporter, Mary Austin. Their interactions lead to some of the most emotionally gripping moments of the film. We see their relationship build, plateau and eventually deteriorate before being revived again before Mercury’s death. The scene where Mercury confesses his bisexuality to Austin was particularly sad to see. She details her previous shaky relationship history and says this time it’s worse because “it’s not even your fault.” The confession leads to the pair essentially splitting up and seeing other people until they reconnect at the end as best friends.
The second half of the film is primarily dedicated to showing Mercury’s fall from greatness into a world of drugs and excess partying. It is at this time that he decides to pursue a solo deal that would break up Queen, causing his bandmates to resent him for years. With Austin and his bandmates essentially out of his life, Mercury’s remaining “friends” push him over the edge. Mercury’s health also begins to diminish after he contracts AIDS, which leads to his death in 1991.
I personally admire how the film handles Mercury’s HIV diagnosis; it does not let the news overshadow his character. He is not defined by his illness, and as he says, he will not be a “poster boy for them.” Another moving scene comes when Mercury is leaving the clinic right after receiving his diagnosis, and he locks eyes with another patient. After realizing he just ran into Freddie Mercury—and that he too has HIV—his eyes light up and he cracks a smile. Mercury returns the smile, and neither person feels alone with their illness afterwards. Aside from this moment, Mercury remains very private about his illness, divulging the information only to his bandmates as his reasoning for wanting to perform the Live Aid concert.
The film is packed with many of Queen’s greatest hits and shows the writing process behind many of them. Die-hard Queen fans, musicians and common moviegoers alike will surely find enjoyment from these scenes, as they deliver a refreshing break from the real-world drama the band faced. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is packed with many ups and downs, but the film never suffers from a dip in quality. The narrative is engaging throughout the film leaving the audience wanting more after the climactic Live Aid concert. Even with a run time over two hours, “Bohemian Rhapsody” does anything but overstay its welcome.