If you were a fan of Queen in the 70's and 80's you'll remember there was something about them that was distinctly different from other bands that also ruled the airwaves and charts. It wasn't just their legendary frontman who dominates the spotlight in this film. It was the chemistry and originality of their music. They could rock out with a heavier track like Stone Cold Crazy, pull off a hit which was practically disco in Another One Bites The Dust, and produce transcendent concert anthems We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions. Of course, the song Bohemian Rhapsody defies easy descriptions and has no equal - much like Freddie Mercury himself.
So, going into the theater, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would anyone really be able to bring this band and their story to life for a new generation while satisfying the generation that witnessed it first hand?
Bryan Singer and team made excellent choices in casting the band members. It is not too much to say that, after two minutes on screen, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello make you believe that they are Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon respectively. As for Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury, I can't imagine that anyone could have done better.
The film gets off to a good start with a glimpse of Freddie entering Wembley Stadium for 1985's Live Aid concert before cutting back to the early 70's and the origin of the band. A series of scenes follow that quickly chronicle the smaller gigs and the signing of their first recording contract, leading up to a hugely successful major US tour. We witness the emergence of a level of audience participation that turns out to be a defining component to their live shows.
Its important to note that, though this film is a biopic about the band Queen, it focuses much more on Freddie than the rest of the band. There is very little back-story or revealing information about Brian May, Roger Taylor or John Deacon. Instead, you'll meet Freddie's family and learn about their origins as Parsi Indians in British India with Freddie being born in Zanzibar. There's a bit about his early job as an airline baggage handler before he joins Queen (originally called Smile). You'll learn about the name change from Farrokh Bulsara to Freddie Mercury that coincided with the band name being changed to Queen just prior to them signing with EMI records.
A major story line follows Freddie's relationship with Mary Austin, perfectly played by Lucy Boynton. Their relationship starts out being romantic but evolves to a life-long close friendship as Freddie comes to accept his homosexuality. Scenes that explore Freddie's personality, lifestyle and increasingly close relationship with manager Paul Prenter are interspersed with scenes that focus on concerts and recording sessions. These turned out to be some of the most fun and engaging parts of the film.
In the end, it is really all about the music. As Freddie would probably say himself, he was much more famous and important for what he did as as musician and entertainer than who he was in his private life. This is brought into clear focus in the film's final 20 minutes that recreate the famous Live Aid performance in its entirety. Years had gone by in which the band had not performed together as Freddie pursued a solo career and spiraled into increasing unhappiness and disillusionment. Yet, within a week's time they were able to bring it together, recapture the magic and give us a performance for the ages.
Don't miss the end credits which show early live footage of Queen performing Don't Stop Me Now!