Label Volunteer, Niamh Tait, reflects on Freddie Mercury’s impact as an artist following the release of the Bohemian Rhapsody film.
Much like Freddie Mercury himself, the newly released film on his life and the cultural domination of Queen, has been divisive among critics and the public. Admittedly, the film lacks a rock ‘n’ roll edge that die-hard Queen fans may have hoped for, but we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It is commendable for balancing the multiple dimensions of his personality, celebrating his energy and charisma as a performer, as well as acknowledging his battles with loneliness, sexuality and his AIDs diagnosis.
Rami Malek in character as Mercury passionately declares that ‘No one knows what Queen means because it doesn’t mean one thing’. The film does well to accurately depict this and tracks the trajectory of Queen’s ever changing sound. Opening with the anthemic riff of Somebody to Love, it makes an immediate statement on the cultural impact that Queen had, and sets the film up as a movie/concert hybrid. Following this we see the genesis of other classic hits, from their chart breakthrough single Killer Queen, to Another One Bites the Dust.
The undeniable focal point of the film is the construction of their masterpiece: Bohemian Rhapsody. As a song comprised of conflicting musical genres, seemingly fused together by a mad scientist, it embraces Mercury’s vision to create a musical experience, including something for everyone, from opera to progressive rock. It is an epic poem that cannot be explained, meaning something different to each listener.
Despite primarily focusing on Mercury’s experience in Queen, the film does not neglect the sheer ingenuity of his fellow band mates. As a physics graduate, Brian May’s quiet, levelheaded persona, immortalised by actor Gwilym Lee, makes him unsuspecting. The film captures his composition of one of the most famous guitar solos in musical history in Bohemian Rhapsody and his insistence on audience participation, which gave us the archetypical Queen song: We Will Rock You. Along with Roger Taylor and John Deacon, the film cements Queen as a band with members of equal standing. Mercury says himself that he is not the leader, only the lead singer.
From the beginning, Mercury is presented as a maverick, out of place in his humble family home but defiantly embracing his individuality in the face of adversity. He is presented as an enigma throughout with a tireless work ethic, pouring his heart into his songs, making them both harrowing and sublime. His status as an icon lies in his authenticity, and his idiosyncrasies, embodied in his eccentric outfits, his famous overbite and his audacious attitude. Although the film only portrays fragments of the gritty realities of life in a rock ‘n’ roll band, you have to wonder if that was ever the point. It has succeeded in honouring a musical legend and illustrating the indoctrination of fans into the palm of Freddie’s hand. The film is comforting to old fans but also delivers Queen’s music to a whole new generation, allowing their legacy to live on.
Featured image by: Sofia Azcona