I was nearly 6, playing with my toy cars as my mother did the ironing whilst watching this rock concert on the television. I didn’t really pay much attention until Queen came on and from that moment I was transfixed, totally taken in by Freddie Mercury’s mesmerising performance. I can remember it as if it was yesterday and I have always said since, that if I could go back in time and watch any live concert, it would most definitely be Live Aid 1985 purely because of Queen.
I would like to think I’m a massive fan, my first CDs ever bought being both their Greatest Hits, listened to Night at the Opera and Day at the Races on vinyl, had the posters and yes, the T-Shirt too; that dark blue one with the golden Queen crest on the front. I would like to think I knew Queen and frontman Freddie Mercury, but after watching this, I didn’t know as much as I thought a true fan might and this film was an absolute revelation to their beginnings and their music, gaining what I thought I couldn’t, but an already greater appreciation and understanding to their music. I’ve been listening to the tracks with new ears since and I’m now hearing something more.
It’s safe to say that there really isn’t another rock band quite like Queen, if you could even comfortably label them as an all-out rock band. They were blatantly experimental with rhythmic rifts; catchy, anthem-inducing beats and percussion with iconic basslines. Throw in the orchestrated, operatic and harmonic compositions and you’re getting close to what made Queen stand out from all the others. No two songs sound the same, going against advice and breaking formula which seemed to be the very formula that worked that made them successful. But what really made Queen stand out was Freddie Mercury, and though this film’s main focus is on the legendary lead singer/songwriter, it is about the band and you’ll probably learn a little more about Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon than ever before.
Freddie Mercury was a true entertainer, a performer, the absolute epitome of what a band’s frontman should be; he owned the audience whilst simultaneously unified them. I initially had reservations when hearing Rami Malek had been casted, myself suggesting Douglas Booth after watching him in The Limehouse Golem; but Malek does an outstanding, astounding, hair-raising performance! Oscar worthy absol-bloody-lutely. There were times when I thought they had used archived footage and even Freddie’s sister was emotional shocked by his portrayal. But the pressure to play the rock legend right must have be both exhilarating and tremendously high. Malek took singing and piano lessons, watched tonnes of live video footage and studied Mercury’s influences, his performances and mannerisms getting them down to near perfection.
Lee, Hardy and Mazzello are equally brilliant as May, Taylor and Deacon, really shedding what I hope to be an honest light on the rest of the band. May himself serving as a consultant to the film and worked closely with cast and crew to get everything right, this included bringing Taylor and Freddie’s sister Kashmira to the set for their approval and blessing. May’s wife Anita Dobson even flirted with the younger version of her husband finding Lee “irresistible”. Boynton impressed me with Sing Street and she goes even further here, again playing someone more than just a muse but Freddie’s wife long friend Mary Austin. All of them playing integral parts to Queen’s and ultimately Freddie’s very personal story.
Much like the band’s music, it’s impossible to compare anything that’s remotely like him, his energy and persona, he was a stand alone, larger than life being that didn’t demand attention; he simply took it. And how does one put an entire career such as Queen’s into a runtime of 134mins? And then there is the actually music. The choice of music could not have been easy having decide which tracks out of their impressive, massive hit list gets used, but no fan is going to be disappointed here. Maybe the pinnacle concert dictated what songs were to be played elsewhere in the film.
The story starts at the very beginning, going over how the band first met and it follows their success right through all the turbulent and difficult times as their story really wasn’t always on a bed of roses or a pleasure cruise. It doesn’t straightwash at all and talks openly about his sexuality, but much like his pestering invasive interviews, the story doesn’t focus on it and merely points it out as Freddie was more than what anyone could label him with. He was more than what his sexuality was, he was more than just a frontman to a rock band. It’s also not shy of naming and shaming people and organisations that got in their way or thought otherwise about their success, they clearly owned the stage. The story is rather linear but perfectly structured and paced making this an intriguing journey, even for both hardcore fans and newcomers alike. It’s unexpectedly funny with it’s little quips, especially the brave and almost self parodying joke at Wayne’s World.
[EDIT] I've seen some negative reviews now and personally I don’t get some certain negativity. I’m totally for people having their own opinions of course, but if it was about the technicalities or performances I couldn’t argue, but when I see reviews talking about the lack of detail or “glossing” over certain aspects of Freddie’s life, I feel the need to point out the story wasn’t suppose to be about those details, yet they included them without digressing. We have to remind ourselves we’re more than just our sexuality, our illnesses and controversy behaviours; and if the film had focused on these issues more, it would have distracted away from the person they were trying to portray, which could have been seen as a betrayal. Freddie Mercury tried to avoid it life, so why do we need to make a point of trying to make him remembered for it in death. Surely any of us, if wanting to have our own life stories told, we would want to leave all the bad on the the cutting room floor, and yet this film didn’t ignore it, just didn’t make a big song and dance about that and instead turned it's attention to the person, the band and the music.
The production looks immense, with not only the Live Aid re-enactment but a number of studios, sound stages and concert arenas that truly represented the time and most importantly the vibe; not to the mention the homes Freddie lived in. Everything was perfectly fitting, the makeup and hair, the wardrobe department; though there’s a lot of material for them to work from, but the attention to detail is incredibly accurate. Even down to the positioning of the sponsored beer cups on the piano during Live Aid, which is one of the key high lights of the film. I immediately watched my DVD of their set as soon as I got home, and apart from the change of perspectives, you could be mistaken for thinking you’re watching a glorious remastered version of the actually concert.
I’ve always believed the true essence of success for any band and great artist; and I say artist with the utmost importance; isn’t the multi platinums, it’s not the record deals or the fame; but that moment when a crowd of a hundred thousand people sing back your song in unison which must be totally euphoric and empowering. Watching that, as did the Live Aid concert set, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, made me tingle and fill with glowing warmth. I want to go watch it again.
As for the direction, well, I’m not wanting to tarnish the film but some credit has to be given to Dexter Fletcher who stepped in to complete the principle photography and post-production after Singer was fired by Fox Studios for his erratic behaviour of no-shows and altercations with production staff and cast; one being with Malek. Two thirds of the film had already been captured by the time Fletcher came on board to finish the project, a project he was actually set to direct way back in 2010, and if Fletcher managed post-production; credit goes to him for taking, what great work Singer had already done; no one can take that away from him; and seamlessly completing one glorious picture.
I knew it would have me listening to Queen immediately after and it’s been my van-karaoke since. It struck a chord with me and brought back a lot of personal, loving memories. It was about time it was done, but it’s was perfect timing that it was done with such a fitting and brilliant cast and crew. They really are the champions of the rock world with Freddie clearly as their Queen and without a doubt, it will rock you. Now where’s that T-Shirt?
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 10
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for being an astounding tribute to one of music's greatest performers and legends. RIP Freddie Mercury.