Queen is approaching its fiftieth anniversary, and has had one of the most successful careers in rock history. After a string of hits in the 70s and 80s, brought to a halt by the death of frontman Freddie Mercury, their jukebox musical We Will Rock You gave the band a second career. Now the remaining members of the band tell their story in an auto-biopic: Bohemian Rhapsody.
Queen formed in London in 1971. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor had been playing together in a band, but had lost their lead singer. Farrokh Bulsara, a young immigrant from the Parsi community in Zanzibar (Tanzania) and Mumbai, replaced the singer. He changed his name to Freddie Mercury and suggested the name “Queen” for the band.
The band went on to have a phenomenal career with stadium anthems like “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites the Dust” and pop hits like “I Want to Break Free” or “Radio Gaga”. But the song that made them truly stand out from the crowd is the one that the film takes its title from: 1975’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which broke just about every rule in the rock book. It’s almost six minutes long, has no chorus and takes its inspiration from opera. Yet it spent nine weeks at the top of the British charts and is also credited with beginning the trend for video clips to accompany singles.
Flamboyant Mercury’s spell-binding performances were at the heart of the band but were brought to an abrupt halt when he died of an AIDS related disease in November 1991.
Bohemian Rhapsody the Film
The film has been ten years in the making, instigated by the remaining members of the band. Along the way it has lost stars, scriptwriters and directors. Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) was originally slated to play Mercury but left the project after several years, saying that the band wanted the film to feature Freddie Mercury in the middle, and then the group going from strength to strength. Guitarist Brian May, he pointed out, is an “amazing musician” but “not a great movie producer”.
The final film stars Rami Malek as Mercury. The American actor, best-known for the Emmy-award-winning series Mr Robot, has received universal acclaim for his portrayal of the singer. The film opens, and ends with the band’s triumph at the 1985 Live Aid concert organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise money for famine relief in Africa. An enormous undertaking, it featured many of the world’s most popular musicians, at venues in London and Philadelphia and reached a TV audience of an estimated 1.9 billion people.
When Queen took the stage, the London concert really took off. More importantly, the switchboards lit up with people calling to make donations: £1 million during the band’s 20-minute set.
It was the high-point of Mercury’s career and the film lingers on the success. Better on screen than his sad death? It’s clearly the story the rest of the band want to remain as his legacy.
Twentieth Century Fox