The makers of the Freddie Mercury biopic must have posed themselves the questions, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”
After eight years of setbacks, the biopic of Queen singer Freddie Mercury will be released on October 24 in the U.K. and on November 2 in the U.S. Judging by the recently released trailer, it looks as if Bohemian Rhapsody will deliver a vigorous, upbeat, and technically precise account of Mercury’s glory years with the band.
Some of this has to do with the casting. The four band members are all played by lookalike actors: Rami Malek is Mercury and Gwilym Lee is guitarist Brian May, while Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello are dead ringers for drummer Roger Taylor and bass player John Deacon respectively.
It would be foolish to judge Malek’s performance from the trailer, but it’s hard to imagine that Sacha Baron Cohen or Ben Whishaw—who were each in line to play Mercury at different stages in the film’s tortuous development—would have looked more like Queen’s flamboyant frontman.
Though physical similarity is only one consideration in casting actors as real people, it goes a long way in building credibility and pleasing fans. Suffice to say the casting of Bohemian Rhapsody seems more fastidious, in a positive sense, than the casting of, say, the Sex Pistols in Sid and Nancy (Gary Oldman aside) or Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays in 24 Hour Party People.
Malek is an American actor of Egyptian Coptic and Greek-Egyptian descent. Mercury was born in Zanzibar to Parsi parents from Bombay. If the Mercury of the movie isn’t, therefore, a strict ethnic equivalent of the former Farrokh Bulsara, the trailer reveals that Malek manages to evoke Mercury’s transition from an ugly duckling into the most magnificent swan of the 1970s glam and post-glam era.
It shows, too, his stylistic transformation—via costumes, hairdos, and that famous moustache—from a conventionally flashy hard rocker to an outré bisexual icon who managed to retain his straight following. The birth and creation of the title song, Queen’s finest six minutes, is central to the movie.
So, too, apparently are the band’s spats with managers and record company suits, which were ironically reflected in the movie’s troubled shoot. Director Bryan Singer was fired on December 4, 2017, either for health reasons or because of disputes with Malek, after two-thirds of principal photography was completed. Singer was replaced by Dexter Fletcher, the former actor turned director who will next helm the Elton John biopic Rocketman.
How far Bohemian Rhapsody will delve into Mercury’s sexuality and his AIDS diagnosis remains to be seen. The trailer features a shot that picks out actress Lucy Boynton as his long-time companion Mary Austin and accents Mercury’s appeal to women. Aaron McCusker as Mercury’s longtime boyfriend Jim Hutton is seen briefly in the trailer, so it is reasonable to believe the relationship will be addressed. A heteronormative version of Mercury’s life clearly would not be acceptable.
Nor would a hagiography—so the casting of superb impersonators won’t be everything.