Dead People Can’t Sue.
“Between the fact and the legend, print the legend.” – Tony Wilson
“Fuck it. Who cares for the truth anyway?” – Me
Bohemian Rhapsody is both brilliant, and bullshit. But the four most important words relating to this film are simple : Dead People Can’t Sue.
The artistic licence, and utter callous disregard for fact and reality that this film shows are those that makes Donald Trump look like Jesus. Since neither Paul Prenter, Jim Hutton, nor Freddie Mercury are here to counter the film, anything can happen, even if it didn’t.
No, Freddie Mercury didn’t meet Smile after the bands bassplayer walked out. He lived in the same apartment as the band long before that. No, Freddie didn’t find out he had AIDS in 1984 before Live Aid, and no, Freddie didn’t tell the band in rehearsals for LiveAid. No, the band hadn’t split for several years before LiveAid. They had last played together seven weeks before in Japan. No Jim Hutton wasn’t a waiter at a party of Freddies in 1982. No, Freddie didn’t fire the bands manager by throwing out of a car in America in the mid 80’s. No, Paul Prenter didn’t appear on television in 1985 calling Freddie a “Paki boy” after being sacked in a rainstorm for not telling Freddie about LiveAid. It’s all lies. Unless everything the band have told us before the film is lies. Though somehow, if Paul Prenter had done that TV interview, it would have been on YouTube.
So, lets ignore the fact that the last hour is obviously delusional nonsense and Any Resemblance to Actual Persons, Maybe Living or Almost Definitely Dead, is Purely Coincidental, apart from the fact that some of it, sort, kinda happened like that about forty years ago, and lets just… enjoy it? The casting is accurate, definitely. The attention to detail in the costume design, awful hairstyles, and so on is correct. It’s just… it didn’t go down like that. Freddie didn’t knock on the door of a butler he’d made a terrible pass at years ago in his Rolls Royce on the morning of LiveAid, then on their first date the same day, introduce him to his estranged parents before going off to play a football stadium on global television. It. Just. Didn’t. Bloody. Happen.
Sure, it’s a fascinating tale of a gawky kid who somehow became a huge megastar, who was goofy and an opera nerd, and somehow also possessed with immense talent, who managed to rule the world with a failed dentist, an astronomer, and an electrical genius who all met at University. It’s a compelling tale, told with surprising sensitivity – and it doesn’t exactly hide away from the bands collective or individual failings (and failures). And when it gets it right – it’s wonderful. And when it plays fast loose, and flippant with the facts, it falls over. It feels emotionally correct and has the classic redemptive arc, with Freddie as the errant lost soul lead into darkness by horrible people who exploit his naivety to get rich, who find the blah blah blah of his predictable musical family etc etc., and get to conquer the world through being one of the freaks. Or something.
Make no mistake, it’s very well done. And I, with more than your average interest in Queen – though also, at the same time, very aware both how incredibly daft the band are/were and how they were rescued from their certain fate as the London version of Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts by having Freddie become their guiding light, was unimpressed with just how relaxed this film is with the truth. I kept getting drawn in then pulled out with the realisation that It Didn’t Happen Like That!
Buy the ticket. Enjoy the ride. Leave your brain – and your history books – at home, and enjoy it. It may be many things, but it isn’t the truth. It’s a show. It’s a business. It’s showbusiness.