Rami Malek knows what people might expect from Bohemian Rhapsody. “It could easily have been a monumental piece of shit, right?”
Consider the case for the prosecution: it is a biopic, that most maligned of movie genres, and one that has wrong-footed the most surefooted talents: remember Leonardo DiCaprio as J Edgar Hoover? He may well hope you don’t. Worse, it is a music biopic, a sub-genre that has proven even more problematic: Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis?
Finally, Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic of Queen, most obviously of Freddie Mercury, one of the handful of frontmen in the history of rock who can be said to be touched by genius. Its set piece is the Live Aid Wembley concert, which not only involved assembling 72,000 fans dressed like it was 1985 but also recreating one of the single defining performances in pop, one that was watched by 40 per cent of the planet, live. (“Day-o… Day-o” etc.)
While we’re discussing difficulties, we might throw in the surviving members of Queen’s fondness for not always showing off their legacy in the best light, elements of which one suspects might have had poor old Freddie pirouetting in his grave. There is, of course, the deathless Queen musical, We Will Rock You, from a book by Ben Elton, which seems to have been playing in London longer than Trooping the Colour, despite universally horrible reviews. There have been Queen computer games, Queen collaborations with the boyband 5ive and the rapper Wyclef Jean, and a Queen Monopoly boardgame. (“Because as Freddie used to say, when they asked him if he liked being rich, ‘Yes, I like getting lots of money because it tells me that people like what I do’,” explained guitarist Brian May to a perplexed reporter. “So there is the same kind of ethos behind this game.”)
Then there is Bohemian Rhapsody’s own troubled birth. The film has been in production in some form or another since 2000. The casting of Sacha Baron Cohen as Mercury bit the dust after May reportedly found him “too distracting”. Then director Bryan Singer walked off set with two weeks filming still to go, to be replaced by Dexter Fletcher, who, to be fair, did have biopic experience: his last film was ski-jumping drama Eddie the Eagle (2016).
And yet, despite all this, the 40-or-so minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody that Esquire has seen very much suggest a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. And the revelation is Malek’s performance: on and off-stage, he is a terrific Mercury. [More at Source]