Saturday, 27 October 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

As a 16 year old I saw Queen on their Sheer Heart Attack tour in 1975 and a year later, also in Bristol, saw them on their A Night at the Opera tour (I still have the concert brochure!). Two concerts that have stuck in my memory for their sheer energy and power. I grew up with Queen. To see this film certainly was to embark on a nostalgic journey. To experience the music was to reawaken the realisation that in Queen we have a unique sound and an amazing set of songs.

Much has been said about this film and the critics have been extremely vocal. For me, this was not so much a biopic of Queen but an exploration of vocation and human identity. Much of the film centres on Freddie Mercury played brilliantly by Rami Malek. It does not however deliver insider information on Freddie's descent into drugs and gay relationships. These elements are present briefly, but only to serve the development of the narrative context. If people are looking for salacious title-tattle, they will be disappointed. This film has more important things to say.

It begins and ends at the Liveaid concert at Wembley in 1985 charting the journey of Freddie, or
Farrokh Bulsara to give him his birth name, from Heathrow baggage handler to $4 million dollar signing. Freddie's origins are complicated and his lineage comes from Persia via India and Zanzibar to Feltham, of a Parsi family with Zoroastrian roots. If you add to this his wrestle with his own sexuality, you have someone who doesn't really fit in anywhere. This was the driving force for his life journey and for the uniqueness of Queen's sound.

The film makes it clear that Freddie's flamboyance and musical abilities were indicators of the direction in which he would find fulfilment. Stifled by parental expectations and living for live performances, Freddie had to escape and when the opportunity presented itself he grabbed it and Queen were born. In the process he connected deeply with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) - a relationship which never ended.

The film makes it clear that Freddie's journey was a vocational one. He needed to discover who he was and writing songs and performing helped him to do that. With endless tours and new albums under their belt in an epiphany Freddie announces that he is a 'performer' and a self-satisfied grin grows across his face. He has finally found out who he really is. His exceptional ability to connect with an audience was perhaps the single most important aspect that gave such power and energy to Queen's live performances.

That is until another epiphany reveals to him that he thinks he may be bisexual. How Mary handles this is tenderly wonderful. I cannot remember seeing a film or engaging with a story which so empathetically follows someone searching for their sense of self. Perhaps at the age I am, I still possess a naivety, but I have never had to question my own sexual identity. The film enabled me to see how closely sexuality is, for some, an integral part of self-identity in a way that I had not fully appreciated before. What's more, it allowed me to see how much it was equally an expression of vocation, as being a performer for Freddie. That is if we understand vocation to be, becoming the fullest possible expression of the person we were created to be. What the film makes clear is that while Freddie was happy to allow the performer side of his identity to be public property, his sexuality which was for him such an intimate part of his identity, he wished that it remain private. The film moved me to tears many times.

Aficionados of Queen will undoubtedly find many holes in the plot, characters and representation of what happened to their group. Band members Brian May and Roger Taylor were creative advisors to the makers of the film and wished nothing to appear in the film that would diminish Freddie Mercury's legacy or memory. That they achieved.

Anyone with an interest in popular music of the 1970s and 80s should go an see this film. Anyone who likes to engage in a believable story told through compelling acting should go and see this film. If you have an interest in how sexuality forms part of self-identity, you should go and see this film. If you are reading this - you should go and see the film. I'll give it 8/10.

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