Review: Bohemian Rhapsody - Malek and the music rocks, the history mocks
Is this the real life?
No, it is close to fantasy.
Bohemian Rhapsody is in parts thrilling, in parts rotten.
The thrill is mostly down to Rami Malek. He embodies frontman Freddie Mercury to a near supernatural degree.
Whether it is that toothy, fruity pronunciation or stalking the stage like some flamboyant panther in a leotard, he is Mr Fahrenheit. Expect awards.
Any moment with the band performing is a sensation and the decision to end the film with a recreation of most of the 1985 Live Aid performance - voted the greatest rock performance of all time, no less - is an incredibly bold move that really pays off. All 20 minutes of it.
It's surprisingly moving, especially if you remember it the first time around (cough).
There is an amazing story to be told about Queen - a wildly inventive band, a frontman who hid his sexuality in plain sight, pioneers of the music video, one of the greatest live acts ever and famed for parties of such excess that Caligula would blush.
But this is not that story. And much of the rot stems from the film being an unreliable narrator.
With remaining band members Brian May and Roger Taylor co-producing, this is the Queen approved version of history. Far fromm warts and all this has a thick layer of make-up.
Most of the non-music segments feel contrived and soap-like. There is barely a believable conversation in the entire film.
While Malek gives the balance between brilliant frontman, infuriating egotist and lonely soul, other characters are shells.
The other Queen members are portrayed as stuck-in-the-mud, eye-rolling at Mercury's lifestyle and likely to prefer an early night.
Then there is the (mis)handling of Mercury's sexuality. The (sanitised) hedonism is presented as something he did not really enjoy, and the film makes no bones about how it sees Mercury's personal manager Paul Prenter (played by Allen Leech) as a manipulative lover and corrupting influence. For a while, the Prenter character takes the film in a psycho stalker thriller direction. It feels like there is some score settling here.
Out side of the band, Mercury's relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) gets a lot of attention. The woman Mercury falls for, writes Love Of My Life for and can't bear to be apart from. The film suggests that she exits his life for large chuncks of time, only returning at key moments such as to save Mercury from himself. In real life, it appears they were never apart for long.
In a biopic, there has to be acceptance of some conflated events, some coincidence.
Here, it is ludicrous - not least the idea that Mercury not only found the love of his life, came out to and reconciled with his parents and played Live Aid all on the same day.
Where the twisting of history really threatens to overstep the mark is in Mercury being given his HIV diagnosis a couple of years early just in order for it to fit within the film's timeline. It superficially helps the drama, but the real story is astounding enough. It does not need such embellishments.
Despite leaving the theatre uplifted after the film's finale, the approach to the facts left a sour taste. As a fan of the music, its feels like a disservice to the band and Mercury.
Go see it to hear the awesome music played loud, but don't take it that this is how things happened.
3.5 Ticks for Malek and the music
1.5 Ticks for the rest
MOVIE: Bohemian Rhapsody
STARRING: Rami Malek, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Joe Mazzello, Allen Leech, Aidan Gillen
DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
THE SKINNY: The film traces how Freddie Mercury (Malek) went from being an airport baggage handler to a rock god, and how he helped Queen become one of the biggest bands in history.