Friday, 26 October 2018

A rhapsody about the ultimate queen

Queen were a revolutionary band. This is not really a matter for dispute. And if you don’t believe it, I suggest you listen to A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.

However, the launch of Bohemian Rhapsody, the new film that’s essentially a biopic of the band’s iconic lead singer, Freddie Mercury, has quickly been accused of not itself being revolutionary enough.

There’s a badly flawed logic here: the band were revolutionary, yes … but why should any film about that band *have* to be a revolutionary piece of cinema itself? Seriously – why?

Why not just let the revolutionary band’s revolutionary music tell the story?

And this, in essence, is primarily what happens. The late stages of the film recreate pretty much Queen’s entire Live Aid set, which finally got the phones buzzing for that charity fundraiser and on screen, is one of the most adrenalin-pumping things you will witness in a cinema this year.

What you don’t get is dwarves wandering around Freddie’s parties with silver trays on their heads, heaped with cocaine.

What you do get is hints of this, plus fetish clubs and much more.

But hey, this is not a hagiography – and thank goodness for that.

What we have is a really entertaining film that also manages to show some of the problems that Freddie Mercury faced in his life: he was the archetypal flawed genius … arrogant certainly, yet also incredibly vulnerable and desperate for love and genuine friendship; and in his own way, very loyal.

Like Abba, Queen transcend generations – and generalisations. Their music will be around after I’m gone, for instance. Of that I have no doubt.

For me, this is a superbly entertaining movie – and very, very moving in places.

Initially, I didn’t want to see it.

I fell in love with Queen in around 1974-75, when I heard Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time, at the Christmas disco of my then girls’ school. I stopped still, on my own, in the middle of the floor, as my mind was blown.

I seem to lack much in the way of memories for huge swathes of my life up to about 40, yet I can remember that moment as if it were yesterday.

I can remember too, going to pubs in Lancaster with my then boyfriend and feeding the jukebox to play Friends Will Be Friends – and being absolutely convinced that that was hardcore rock ‘n roll ... though to be fair to myself, if you know that my core musical love is classical, then it really was hardcore.

Later still, I remember when Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister, feeding another juke box, in another place, to blare out Another One Bites the Dust.

I’ve never stopped being a Queen fan. I never got to a concert, although I’ve been at a party with Brian May and Roger Taylor (very sedate), but I’ve long regretted never seeing Freddie in the flesh.

When he died, I retired to my Bloomsbury bedsit with two bottles of Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon (it was cheap but decent), put my headphones on and listened to him for hours while getting steadily pissed. It is the only time, thus far, that I have mourned a celebrity in such a way.

The concert sequences here, seen on a big screen, gave me a buzz I hadn’t expected.

And while the the cast as a whole is very good (and the costumes and hairdressing are fabulous), it has to be said that Rami Malek, as Freddie, turns in a performance that would not be out of place in next year’s Oscar nominations.

If you don’t like Queen, then its really simple: don’t go. But don’t pretend that this isn’t glorious entertainment and a wonderful reminder of just what a genius Freddie – and the rest of the band – were and are.

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