The Queen biopic stars Rami Malek as frontman Freddie Mercury
The first reviews are in for Bohemian Rhapsody, the Queen film which chronicles the 15-year period between their formation as a band and their famous performance at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985.
Before it’s release, the film faced early criticism after a teaser trailer came under fire from writer and producer Bryan Fuller for not paying mind to Mercury’s bisexuality.
Mercury’s sexuality is something that The Guardian‘s Steve Rose touches upon, stating: “Unforgivably, Bohemian Rhapsody casts Mercury’s wilderness years as a symptom of his gayness. We see the solo Mercury in Munich, drug-addled, shorn of his real friends and exploited by his new ones, who are mostly leather-clad, party-happy men. It reduces Mercury’s homosexuality to a tutting “he’s got in with the wrong crowd”.
He continues: “A bolder film might have explored the relationship between Mercury’s hedonism, his mostly closeted sexuality and his on and off-stage personas in a more nuanced way.”
Forbes‘ Scott Mendelson describes the film as a ‘homophobic biopic,’ writing that Bohemian Rhapsody “reframes his life story as an Afterschool Special about the dangers of partying and gay sex.”
He adds: “Yes, Freddie is absolutely presented as bisexual in this picture, but the film essentially argues that he would have been fine had he remained in a monogamous hetero relationship with Lucy Boynton’s Mary Austin. Whether it’s homophobic or old-school slut-shaming, it’s icky.”
However, the BBC‘s Nicholas Barber defends the film’s emphasis on Mercury’s straight relationship with his former fiancée Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton). “[It] prompted much grumbling on social media,” he writes. “Similarly, there have been complaints about the decision to make it a mainstream crowd pleaser with a 12A / PG13 certificate, when in reality, its hero was so debauched that he could have given Casanova lessons.
“But these objections aren’t wholly fair. While it’s true that Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t put much on screen that would scare off family audiences, it does acknowledge that Mercury popped pills, visited fetish clubs, threw the wildest parties in town and, after some soul-searching, embraced life as a gay man. Mamma Mia, it ain’t.”
Describing the flick as ‘more famine than feast,’ The Spectator‘s Jasper Rees notes: “Demoralisingly, the weird tale of a Parsi immigrant, an astrophysicist, a dentist and an electrical engineer is packaged as a succession of predigested clichés: the disapproving father, the obstructive producer, the mistrusted manager, the controlling sidekick, the obstreperous star who takes off on his own.”
Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman praises Rami Malek’s depiction of the star, asking: “With a performance as commanding as Rami Malek’s at its center, why isn’t “Bohemian Rhapsody” a better movie?”
He adds: “Despite its electrifying subject, is a conventional, middle-of-the-road, cut-and-dried, play-it-safe, rather fuddy-duddy old-school biopic, a movie that skitters through events instead of sinking into them. And it treats Freddie’s personal life — his sexual-romantic identity, his loneliness, his reckless adventures in gay leather clubs — with kid-gloves reticence.”
Little White Lies‘ Hannah Woodhead also praises Malek’s performance, describing him as “the best version of Freddie we could hope for, enthusiastically strutting his way around the stage and doing his best to capture the charisma which has made Mercury such an enduring pop icon.”
However, she too, is disappointed in the film’s missed opportunities when it came to exploring Mercury’s identity. “In particular, his relationship with his Parsi Indian family – are missed, and even the attention paid to his sexuality feels cheap, with one scene contrasting the recording of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ with Mercury visiting a gay club.”