How authentic is Bohemian Rhapsody really?
It is remarkable how Freddie Mercury’s voice is imprinted on our minds. So much so that many would say Freddie is Queen and vice-versa. From the touching first notes of 'Love of my Life' to the powerful refrain from 'Who Wants to Live Forever', chills will go up and down our spines and we are sure to ask ourselves: ‘this song is for me!’. With much ado, we finally have a cinematic version of Queen’s - let’s say – ‘operetta’. A two-hour fifteen-minute tribute to one of the most iconic bands of all time. But how authentic is Bohemian Rhapsody really? If you’ve already seen it, I’m sure a few red flags came up along the way.
Bryan Singer (the same fella who directed The X-Men) was the original director to this wee flick. It just so happens that two weeks before finishing filming, he asked for a pause in production. Halting production at this stage would cost Fox millions, and so they gave him a resounding ‘no’. Claiming his mother was undergoing health issues that needed his attention, Singer hopped on the first plane out of London and left everyone high and dry. Dexter Fletcher took his place and finished shooting with no detriment to the overall quality of the film.
Maybe too much poetic license?
There is no problem with poetic license per se. Directors quite often rearrange and over-emphasize certain aspects of celebrities’ lives in many biographies out there. This makes for a more coherent and engaging narrative. However, some say that they took poetic license too far in Bohemian Rhapsody. This has been bothering some hardcore fans. Allegedly, some aspects of Freddie’s life are partial and peculiar reflections of some individual’s points of view, mainly the surviving members of Queen. Let’s see some of this questionable poetic license in more detail:
First of all, Freddie was already friends with Tim Staffell (the bass player who later leaves the band). He kept on insisting on auditioning for a position as the band’s lead singer. Until one day they finally gave him his big break.
He didn’t meet the band at a parking lot, offered to perform, got turned down, sang anyway, swept every one of their feet, and got the job. Although the movies’ version is more Cinderella-like and consequently more impressive, it is also more inaccurate.
In addition, they show John Deacon (bass) performing with the band in 1970. He actually joined Queen in 1971. Before that, the band featured itinerant bass players.
Another incorrect and quite pointless poetic freedom misuse is the flat tire scene. For some reason, the director decided to give the band unreal money-problems, maybe because so many bands actually struggle financially at the beginning of their careers. On this scene, their van gets a flat tire. Freddie has the ‘brilliant’ idea of selling the van to buy studio time. They do it, record their first album, and get discovered. So Cinderella! In real life, Queen got an offer to use Trident Studios for free after hours. A kind gesture if you ask me.
You don’t mess with the timeline
It is probably easier to follow Doctor Who’s timeline rather than the mess they made in Bohemian Rhapsody.
I don’t even know where to start. First of all, Queen released ‘Fat Bottom Girls’ in '78, but in the movie it gets played in 74, at the band’s first tour of the US.
Secondly, Freddie watches their Rio concert with Mary Austin, the girlfriend with whom he broke up in 76. Granted they stayed friends and might have indeed watched the concert together, but that’s a bit farfetched, especially because the concert was in '85.
Thirdly, the Rio concert and Live Aid happened on the same year, in 1985. The movie makes it seem like there were a few years and a lot of maturing between the two events.
Another timeline screw up is putting Live Aid at the end of the movie and making it look like the beginning of Freddie’s decline into AIDS. Live Aid took place during Queen’s climax, which means the band still had a lot to offer after this particular concert.
Last but not least, and this is going to be a total let down: at the time of Live Aid, Freddie was not aware of his HIV diagnosis! This means when he sang ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ he was not facing his own mortality. Guess that scene’s just lost a lot of its appeal, hum?
Ray Foster, the imaginary friend
Gotta love Mike Myers! Just wanted to put it on the record.
Ray Foster, however, didn’t quite exist. Well, at least not in the way he was portrayed. Ray took the place of Roy Featherstone, the actual EMI executive. Roy was quite a fan of Queen and advised the band against the length of Bohemian Rhapsody…and nothing else. Guess the movie needed a villain then.
I DON’T want to break free
The movie portrayed Freddie as a diva quite often. They led us to believe Freddie was selfish at times, in addition to being easily manipulated. It seemed as if he quit the band, moved abroad, and rebelliously recorded his solo album ‘Mr. Bad Guy’. As a matter of fact, by the time Freddie recorded his solo album, Roger Taylor had already recorded two.
The fight and break up shown in the movie didn’t make much sense at all. Freddie wasn’t such a diva and the band never actually broke up. Granted there was a brief band hiatus, exactly at the time Freddie recorded ‘Mr. Bad Guy’.
The movie made it look as if the band actually broke up and followed different paths, only to triumphantly return for Live Aid. Guess they didn’t want to break free after all.
Sexuality all over place
Fans speculated from day one if the movie would approach Freddie’s sexuality appropriately. Freddie was in fact quite reserved about his personal life.
The movie underplayed Jim Hutton’s role in Freddie’s life. Jim was never a waiter, neither did he ‘get together’ with Freddie at the very end. He used to be a hairdresser who Freddie met at a party. Jim lived with Freddie for several years and nursed him through the final stages of his disease.
Conversely, Mary Austin received quite a lot of screen time. Granted she was indeed one of Freddie’s female love interest and good friend in real life. However, Hutton was underplayed a bit in comparison to Austin.
Mary Hutton was not Freddie’s only female love interest. The movie completely omitted his relationship with Austrian actress Barbara Valentin, which lasted a good part of the 1980s.
In summation, the movie makes it inconclusive if Freddie was gay or bisexual. I for one do not care about his personal life, but about his music.
So, how authentic is Bohemian Rhapsody really?
All in all, the costumes and cinematography are great! They really capture the essence of the 80s and 90s. The cast is harmonious and their interaction/acting is quite believable.
The soundtrack is impeccable, I got shivers for the whole two hours.
The movie did follow the structure and patterns of a biography, but took way too much poetic freedom.
Personally, I would rather see more of the band dynamics, their heyday, and creative process rather than so much – fake – drama. Literally, absolutely no background is given to any of the other band members, aside from their graduation courses. Queen was a band, not just a lead singer alone.
If you haven’t seen it yet, sorry for the spoilers. If you have, leave a comment and let’s see what you think.
Dennis Tura is a language teacher, author, and proprietor of his own Startup since 2005. Shortly after endeavouring on the private language tutoring market, he realised social media would be key to reach customers far and wide, and therefore based most of his advertising on these outlets. In 2012, he took a step even further and began providing courses online, reaching customers worldwide and once again making using of social media as an optimal channel for advertising.