Bohemian Rhapsody was consumed by love from raving audiences when it hit theaters in 2018. It offered plenty of drama, great humor, and a sweet message about love all set to Queen’s music. As their popularity has continued over the years, of course it was likely to do well and it did… financially.
Despite the success, Bohemian Rhapsody only scored a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. Fairly low for a film with five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. The performances and casting were phenomenal. Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury was mind blowing and outstanding. The relationships between the band members along with Freddie’s relationship with the love of his life, Mary Austen (played by Lucy Boynton) was fun, beautiful and definitely one of the strongest points of the film. Then why did it earn such a low score? Because it held back.
The film didn’t want to commit to a story solely about Freddie Mercury. The defense I hear for this is they wanted to make a film about the entire band… great, but they didn’t do that either. Freddie was the main character, yet there was so much about him we didn’t get to see (i.e. Freddie’s sexuality and his continuing drug addiction). If this was a film about the band, why didn’t we see them? We saw them all together, but why not individually? The blunt answer: because Freddie Mercury is the most famous and the one people are the most interested in. You can’t necessarily blame the audience for wanting what they want. But this was also not the first version of the Queen project.
Years before Bohemian Rhapsody’s release, actor Sacha Baron Cohen had spent about six years working with the band to produce a Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic. During an interview with Howard Stern, Stern clarified that the band “wanted to clean it up” whereas Cohen “wanted to get into the nitty gritty” (from his sex life to the parties he threw, which the film touched on a smidge). Cohen understood that as a band, they wanted the film to be about all of them, but their visions of the project differed. According to Cohen, the band wanted Freddie Mercury’s death to happen halfway through the film, and the rest of story would focus on Queen moving forward. Cohen felt this wouldn’t be a story an audience would get behind, and due to the fame of Freddie Mercury, Cohen may have been right. But could Queen’s idea have worked?
No matter what the story is, an important character dying halfway through the movie is questionable storytelling to say the least. I’ve said this before, I do believe most ideas, even unorthodox ones, can work if the right people are involved (mainly the right studio, the right writers, and the right directors). So, would Queen’s vision have worked? Could it have worked? Possibly. But to be honest, their idea sounds more appropriate for a documentary than a feature. As a feature, the concept would need adjustments. The obvious one being Freddie Mercury’s death would need to be within the first act therefore the story would be about Queen following his death.
If this ever come up in the discussion, I understand Sacha Baron Cohen not being onboard as he wanted to make a film about Freddie Mercury (as he was also attached to play him). I can see the band being for this, as well as being against it. The film would focus on them, which is what they did want, but with Freddie gone they’re missing a member. Did they want to focus on Queen in its entirety? Probably.
Of course, it’s possible to make a film that focuses on the band from the beginning to the end. Or maybe even a project that ends with Freddie’s death. Live Aid could be their high point, and Freddie’s diagnosis would be the turning point. Regardless, in order for a film that focuses solely on the band, the only solution is they are all the main character, not just Freddie Mercury. Diving into all of their lives, their struggles, their ups and downs. While Freddie may be the most famous one or the most popular one, it doesn’t matter. They’re a band. He’s only one part of it.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a very different movie than the one they attempted proving they found a balance that was acceptable to everyone, particularly, the band. Regardless whether you loved Bohemian Rhapsody or you hated it, like any film it had highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses. With Freddie Mercury’s storyline of his personal life and the storyline of the band, you can see the potential in two different movies we didn’t get. Two different stories we didn’t see in its entirety. Or you can look at it as two different stories we haven’t seen yet… In an industry that’s always changing, who knows? Maybe the completed story will be told some day. All we can do is wait, or hope.