I have been a massive fan of Queen since the age of about 14. I was introduced to them by a friend and, once I got my head around what I was listening to, gradually fell madly, head-over-heels in love. And it has remained that way ever since.
When Freddie died, it is true to say I was devastated. By way of coping, I collected clippings from all the newspapers for a scrap book, which I still have. He was – and remains – my biggest musical hero. I fell into a very deep depression that lasted years (the impact of his death on my psyche I am just beginning to realise, like, today!) and have found it extremely difficult to listen to Queen ever since.
Still, I was very excited when I heard that a film was looming. As Brian and Freddie were involved, I figured it would have the Queen stamp of quality on it and I was not wrong.
As a fan, I wondered exactly what moments would be picked, how far into Freddie’s illness they would go, what artistic license would be employed and – most importantly – how believable the actors would be. Let’s start there.
Rami Malek was Freddie Mercury. Or as near as dammit. The prosthetic teeth added to the visual likeness but, beyond that, he had the mannerisms (the way Freddie, conscious of his teeth, would pull his lips forward over them) and the voice. It was only part way through that it dawned on me that Rami wasn’t English. He had the rough n’ tumble campness that Freddie personified to a tee.
The actors playing Brian and John were also excellent. At points, with both of them, you have to do a double take to remind yourself that this is a film, not a documentary, so much are the look and sound-alikes. The weakest of the four was Roger, but I think that could be a lot to do with Roger not being that distinct, beyond blonde hair and sunglasses. However good they all were, none of them were impersonating the band. That is an important point. If they were, the viewer would be forced to be constantly comparing whereas, because they inhabited the character, they were instantly believable in those roles.
They also went to great lengths to show them performing the music. It was no trick of the camera that you saw them all play (piano, guitar, bass, drums) and a quick scan of the credits shows that each of them had several teachers in each discipline.
All the important characters from Freddie’s life were on screen, most notably his life-long love, Mary. His relationship with her was handled sensitively and felt truthful. For anyone that ever thought Mary was simply Freddie’s beard may have to reevaluate that assumption, if the clear love between them displayed on screen is accurate to the truth.
We see Queen’s formation, the early years and their build to near legendary status. This was all very interesting as they were already established stars when I came to discover them. Seeing how it all started was a bit of a treat. Freddie’s decline into debauchery is handled well, is not salacious and felt precarious. You feel Freddie’s pain and conflict.
I can’t really say much more without saying too much more! The story arc is different to the one I presumed, so I don’t want to spoil it for you. Let the film overwhelm your senses and go along for the journey.
Personally, I found the last twenty minutes tough. Very tough. I thought I might get a lump in my throat in places, I did not expect to become a blubbering wreck. I really had to work hard on containing my emotions as much as was possible, but there were full on tears and bottom lip wobbling! Freddie really did have such an effect on me, one that still runs very deep. I didn’t realise quite how strong those feelings still were until this film. I have never moved on from the mourning phase to the being able to enjoy the music again phase. Clearly I’ve not dealt with something here, so I need to check in on that. It was a good half an hour before I could talk with Vikki about the film, and even then it was in small bites.
Would I recommend this movie? To any Queen fan, absolutely YES! But I think that anyone who enjoys music biographies would get a kick out of it as well. It is a unique story, well told with great acting and direction.