The critics have been very mixed on the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Praise is high for star Rami Malek’s performance, and the film goes out on an undeniable high with its recreation of the Live Aid concert, but much of the film before that point is has been labelled shallow and slammed for playing things incredibly safe, sanitised, sexless and highly conventional.
The original band certainly never played it safe in their heyday, and the softening arguably goes beyond mere censorship to the point of re-writing and reframing much of the band’s history in a way that’s flattering to everyone, especially the surviving members, aside from one of Freddie’s confidantes who becomes the ‘villain’ of the piece.
In fact, long before the film’s troubled production began, it struggled its way through development as there were many different ideas of which direction the project should go. Surviving members Roger Taylor and Brian May famously had to be talked out of making the second half of the film about themselves and the band’s post-Freddie era.
Still, the most well-known change was that of casting. Five years ago comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was signed to portray Freddie Mercury with Stephen Frears onboard to direct. That version was a very different interpretation, one both far more accurate to history and unafraid to shy away from the rough edges of the story.
Speaking with Vulture this week, Frears opened up about what type of film he and Cohen were going to make saying: “Sacha wanted to make a very outrageous film, which I would imagine Freddie Mercury would have approved of. Outrageous in terms of his homosexuality and outrageous in terms of endless naked scenes. Sacha loved all of that… You could always tell there would be trouble with the rest of the band. Because [Sacha] was so outrageous and they weren’t. They were much more conventional.”
A former Sony exec added: “It was a biopic of Freddie more than the story of the band, although a portion of the structure dealt with the ups and downs of the band, but always from Freddie’s POV.” In addition, it has been revealed that both David Fincher and Tom Hopper met about the film before Frears became involved.
Cohen ultimately left over the creative differences – the surviving members of the band controlled the music rights and thus the film, with Bryan Singer and then Malek ultimately coming onboard.