Bohemian Rhapsody is a celebration. It’s a celebration of life, music and the act of creation. It is not the typical screen story of a rock star, which either focuses on the rags-to-riches tale of ascent, or the drink- and drug-fuelled descent into despair (both of which were the storyline of 2018’s other hit musical A Star Is Born).
We do see young Farrokh Bulsara working as a baggage handler at Heathrow before he was reborn as Freddie Mercury, but the early years are passed over quite quickly. The thing about Queen is that the band expected to hit the big time. They knew they were good, and this film shows us why they became so successful.
The script skips over the rock-and-roll excess to give us a look through the keyhole at Queen at work. We watch four talented individuals share their ideas and build on each other’s suggestions to create utterly unique pieces of music. Although there is a clash of egos, the tables are turned late in the film, and we always have a sense that the band like and respect each other.
It’s also one of the wittiest films I have seen in ages, with the deadpan Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) getting most of the best lines. Mike Myers also has a hysterical cameo as a foul-mouthed record company executive, although he is almost unrecognisable under a Jeff Lynne-style wig and sunglasses.
One of the secrets to Queen’s success was that they involved the audience in their work. They never ‘explained’ Bohemian Rhapsody. Like David Bowie in Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, they gave the listeners part of the story and left it up to them to fill in the gaps. This gives us time to imagine and dream, including us in the creative process. ‘Who is Scaramouche?’ I can imagine a generation of kids wondering as they lay on their beds staring at the ceiling (the 1970s version of gawping at a smartphone).
In the same way, they wrote songs specifically for their stage shows, designed to get the audience involved. Here we see Brian May creating the beat of We Will Rock You, one that is so simple and hypnotic that even I can do it. It’s no accident that stadiums around the world still vibrate to the tune of We are the Champions – that’s exactly what it was designed to do.
Despite their constant experimentation, Queen never seem to get the same respect as the Beatles, though surely they are the Fab Four’s creative equals. The magic comes from the fact that the band was not just made up of the best frontman that ever lived, teamed up with a guitar god plus a two-man rhythm section.
All the members of the band were front-rank songwriters. Freddie Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody lifted them into the stratosphere, but bassist John Deacon wrote US number one Another One Bites the Dust as well as the searching cry of despair I Want to Break Free. Drummer Roger Taylor was the prime mover behind their UK number one Under Pressure as well as the anthemic Radio Ga Ga (from which Lady Gaga took her stage name). Most surprising of all, Brian May wasn’t just the writer of guitar-thumping monsters such as Hammer to Fall but also the heart-rending Who Wants To Live Forever?
There is so much else that could have gone on here: Freddie’s childhood in India, the early years of the band, the development of their weird and whacky costumes. It would make for an epic Netflix-style series tracing the lives of these four musicians. As it is, we’ll have to be satisfied with a single movie, which is in the spirit of the band, always leaving us wanting more.