‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Honored the Privacy Freddie Mercury Built for Himself

Doing so, however, cost them a coherent timeline and historical accuracy.
November 17, 2018
8 mins read

On Nov. 2, the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” hit the theaters, and it delivered. The film featured an awe-inspiring performance from Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, and brings a host of Queen’s biggest hits to life on the big screen. The movie also has Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor’s involvement as executive music producers, so what more could anyone want?

However, as it turns out, the critics weren’t in love with the movie. Although they gave high praise to Malek’s performance, many felt that the script fell short in historical accuracy and that it disfigures the memory of Mercury by not including key details from his life. Yet, despite reviews that toss the movie into the pile of disappointing biopics, 93 percent of people liked the movie according to Rotten Tomatoes.

As far as I’m concerned, the inaccuracies that have turned many off to “Bohemian Rhapsody” do not sully Mercury’s important and eccentric legacy, and the film is still able to capture the heart of Mercury, even if it doesn’t capture the full history of Queen.

Under Pressure

“Bohemian Rhapsody” begins with a young Mercury who is working at Heathrow Airport, clearly not in love with his job or the coworkers who sneer at him and call him a “Paki,” and a home life where Mercury explains to his Zoroastrian father that his name is no longer Farrokh Bulsara; he insists on being called Freddie now.

From there, he meets future Queen members Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) at a pub show after their other singer leaves their band, Smile, in the dust. Adding bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) to the group not too long after, the renamed Queen experiences a meteoric rise thanks to their charismatic personalities and groundbreaking music, with the 1985 Live Aid performance book-ending the film.

The plot of the film and the history get fuzzy when asking about the timeline of events. Most notably, the movie uses the revelation of Mercury’s HIV diagnosis to bring together the disjointed group before Live Aid, but historical records show Mercury’s HIV diagnosis happening in 1987, two years after the Live Aid concert. However, Matt Richards’ and Mark Langthorne’s biography, “Somebody to Love: The Life, Death, and Legacy of Freddie Mercury,” notes that he probably was exhibiting symptoms five years before the official diagnosis, so it’s anybody’s guess as to when Mercury actually knew, especially since he was notoriously private.

The timing of Mercury’s solo album is also a point of contention in the film, which was probably used to create more drama between the band members, as the script portrayed Mercury as “killing Queen” when he went solo. In reality, Taylor released his own solo album, “Fun in Space,” in 1981, four years before Mercury released his solo debut, “Mr. Bad Guy,” in 1985. This reality would render the reactions of the band members in the film either ironic or hypocritical.

That being said, one of the biggest complaints deals with the airbrushing of Mercury’s personal life, from the way the film handled his sexuality, his relationship with partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) and his promiscuous and drug-filled lifestyle, all of which are valid. The consensus seems to agree that omitting these details doesn’t do Mercury’s legacy the justice it deserves.

Who Wants to Live Forever?

“Bohemian Rhapsody” goes big, demands attention and hyperbolizes key life events for the sake of entertainment. It is nothing short of what Queen delivers in their captivating lyrics and catchy beats, and although the film isn’t the most faithful for the fact-demanding public, it captures the essence of who Mercury was.

The desire for a more detailed account of Mercury’s personal life, complete with the drugs, the diagnosis and the promiscuity (to name a few) is, though understandable, probably not the best route if the goal is to honor Mercury. Since it is very likely that he started showing symptoms of his illness in 1982, it is interesting that he didn’t publicly share that he had AIDS until the day before his death in 1991.

Then again, he seemed to be private about much of his life, including the fact that he never publicly confirmed the rumors about his sexuality, though that didn’t stop the tabloids from sharing a litany of rumors. Top it off with the racist treatment he received for his Parsi heritage, and there is no question as to why he didn’t share much.

David Edlestein of Vulture provided a defense for the film, writing, “A hundred small things wrong barely matter when there are one or two big things right.” Except for the artistic liberty with exact timelines, those hundred small details about Mercury’s life are the sort of things that he purposely hid.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” does a good job of addressing his legacy respectfully and without digging up old memories that he did not feel comfortable talking about with the public. The film shows a Mercury who did have troubles (albeit with more dramatic effect) and who was in love with Mary Austin as well as Hutton and others, but it does so without treading on his memory. It does so by making him all the things that the audience remembers without disrespecting the privacy that he had built for himself.

The spirit that they captured through Malek’s performance is nothing less than pure Mercury, especially with the breath-taking rendition of Live Aid. Queen’s performances were electric, capturing the kind of glorious and authentic personality that Mercury and his fellow members displayed, which drew fans to idolize the band. Malek mentions in an interview that in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Mercury wasn’t wrong when he responded to Taylor’s comment: “We’re all legends…But you’re right, I am a legend.”

Allison Kestler, Augustana College

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Allison Kestler

Augustana College

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