Looks like Freddie, doesn't feel like Freddie.
Yesterday marked the highly awaited release of Bohemian Rhapsody. FINALLY!
I have been waiting for this film since the first teaser trailers dropped at the start of this year.
Finally a film that would tells us the story of Freddie Mercury.
Freddie Mercury- a gay icon since the late 70’s, when being a gay icon was not a PC thing to be.
Freddie Mercury- who created an AIDS charity and confirmed to the press that he was dying of AIDS at a time when people wouldn’t share toilets with gay people in fear of catching the virus.
Freddie Mercury- who worked his backside off writing songs and touring until Queen finally got their big break.
What a story! What a film it could have been.
I wish they’d made a film about Freddie Mercury instead of Bohemian Rhapsody.
Yes, Rami Malek does look a LOT like Freddie, which has been widely published over the internet for over a year in the run up to the release of the movie. And I really, very much enjoyed hearing the Queen songs I love over the big sound system in the cinema. Watching the breakdown of recording Bohemian Rhapsody was a highlight of the movie.
However. There is a very, VERY large problem with this film which cannot be ignored.
It talks in whispers and post film texts about Freddie BEING GAY and HAVING AIDS.
The first hour or so of the film centres on Freddie during his relationship with Mary Austin, to whom he was engaged for several years and remained lifelong friends with after he came out. There is an abundance of lovingly shot scenes of Freddie and Mary falling in love, getting engaged, cuddling in bed together and having troubles whilst he’s away touring. Every time ‘Love of my Life’ is played we are reminded of how much he loves Mary. Even towards the end of the film, the scenes seem to hint that Freddie stills loves her.
In comparison to this, Freddie’s gay relationships are made to look dirty and shameful. The first plain nod we get to his sexual orientation is when Freddie watches a burly trucker go into the men’s room of a truck stop, a rusty door slaps, filling the screen with the word MEN. Subtle, touching, emotional, right? NOPE.
His relationship with Paul Prenter is framed as nothing short of villainous, with Paul leading Freddie by the hand into a life of drugs and leather parties. That is, until MARY comes to remind Freddie of what’s really important. Ugh.
Freddie’s battle with AIDS in limited to the news on the TV being about the AIDS crisis, Freddie going to the doctors in disguise and telling his band mates that he’s got it. It’s all second fiddle to the band reuniting to play Live Aid in 1987.
Even when Freddie finally tracks down Jim Hutton, the man that would become his life partner- he tells him he needs a ‘friend’. The ultimate gesture of gay romance that comes from this film is when Freddie holds hands with Jim in front of his family. This is a nice moment, and perhaps it signals the greater affection that Freddie held for Jim by having the courage to come out to his family?
I’m unsure, but it really REALLY rattled me that in a film about Freddie Mercury, FREDDIE MERCURY could be so bloody STRAIGHT.
I have done some homework and unpicked some problems to do with the production of this film.
Sacha Baron Cohen was originally lined up to play the role of Mercury, but left the production when Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor pushed the direction of the film more towards celebrating the success of Queen than exploring Freddie’s life.
On the Queen blog in the run up to the film, the band announced that the film would “recreate the fabulous Queen years which brought us such unforgettable moments as Live Aid.”
Yeah, the film did that, but is this really what anyone wanted to watch?
This is a film about Queen, who Freddie just happens to be the flamboyant front man of. Rami Malek creates a caricature of a pouting, flouncing man with prominent teeth. We hardly ever see the man behind the myth. We just trundle along until we get to Live Aid.
Rami Malek has the look and affectations of Freddie- if he went to the effort to nail those, why couldn’t the script writers spend the time researching and unpicking Freddie’s life.
The best part of the film is an almost moment by moment recreation of the Live Aid performance. If you look carefully you can see footage of Freddie on the monitors at the side of the stage. This made me realise that I’d actually rather be watching Freddie sing these songs that Rami Malek lipsynching to his original audio. I came home and did just that, it was far superior. I wish I’d saved the time and money of going to the cinema.
I wanted this film to treat Freddie with the tenderness and reverence that he deserves. I wanted his story to be told in iconic fashion. Last year Tom of Finland told the story of the titular gay artist who defined the leather scene. I wish Freddie had been treated with the respect for his gay identity that Tom of Finland gave Tom.
I recently listened to the audiobook of ‘A Kind of Magic’ which is a really in depth biography of Freddie, and also traces the AIDS crisis back to its very roots. I really recommend this book, or audiobook for an indepth version of the Freddie Mercury story. You might understand my anger at how much was missed in this film if you do read it.
I really did feel that this film puts Freddie BACK IN THE CLOSET. Here are some photos of Freddie and Jim being happy and in love that the film didn’t show us.
In the age of Call Me By Your Name, I am overwhelmingly disappointed that such a straight narrative was pushed through this film.
Freddie, I’m sorry you were done a disservice, but I’m glad that this film will bring your songs to a new generation.
This story can, and will be told again. It will be told better.