Scored to the iconic rock anthems of Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody is both a celebration of the band’s music and the life of flamboyant frontman Freddie Mercury. STACK looks at some key moments in the making of the film and the Queen success story, revealed through anecdotes from producer Graham King and band members Brian May and Roger Taylor.
Producer Graham King was working on Martin Scorsese’s Hugo in 2011 when writer Peter Morgan called to ask if he liked Queen.
“I said, yes, I love Queen! And he told me he was writing this script on spec and that no one had the rights to their story and that I should think about getting involved,” says King.
Following a lengthy conversation with the band’s lawyer and longtime manager Jim Beach, King met with Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor, whom he says were initially apprehensive about the project. But the producer’s impressive Hollywood credentials proved instrumental in ultimately receiving their blessing.
“I come from an area of big Hollywood films, and I thought the story deserved to be told on that level,” explains King. “The film is a celebration of the music as well as carrying on the legacy of Queen and Freddie and showing a whole new generation who Freddie was: his background in Zanzibar, his coming to London as an immigrant, the prejudice he dealt with growing up, his shyness and insecurities about his looks, how he battled on so many different fronts, his brilliance as a songwriter and musician, how he found another family in the band, his reinvention as a larger-than-life performer, while always remaining someone everyone loved who could get away with some very outrageous behaviour – all framed by the creation of a sound that was innovative and groundbreaking for the time.
The period from 1970 to 1985 felt like the most important part of Freddie’s and the band’s life story, and it ends with the triumph of Live Aid.”
IS THIS THE REAL LIFE?
May and Taylor would remain hands-on collaborators throughout the entire creative process.
“The film is telling their life stories, and no one knows it better than them,” says King. “You can read as many books and magazine articles and watch as many videos and interviews, but when you can actually sit with the guys who can take you through the history, who can tell you anecdotes about Freddie that you’d never find out today, that meant the world to me. We all felt that we shouldn’t make the film unless everything was right – story, cast… everything else had to fall into place. The bottom line for me is for everyone involved to be proud of the storytelling, to be proud of a movie about their life stories that’s going to be shown around the world.”
GUARANTEED TO BLOW YOUR MIND
A pivotal moment in the Queen story is the band‘s first appearance on TV’s Top of the Pops in 1974 performing Killer Queen, the song that propelled the band to international stardom, despite or because of Freddie’s outrageously suggestive performance and skintight outfit.
“Another band cancelled at the last minute, and we were suddenly in,“ recalls May. “But it was very strange for us because BBC policy then was that nobody played live, you played to track, and the singer lip-synced. It never felt comfortable for us because we were very much a live act. But it made us decide to make the video for Bohemian Rhapsody, because we knew we would look ridiculous standing on the stage miming to that. Because the track got to number one and stayed there for six weeks, Top of the Pops played the video for six weeks. We didn’t realise that it was going to go all around the world and have the same effect. In Australia for example, where we hadn’t made much of a mark, it was enormous. That video really turned us into stars.”
WE WILL ROCK YOU
Bohemian Rhapsody is bookended by Queen’s unforgettable performance at the 1985 Live Aid charity concert, where the band was reunited following Mercury’s move to Germany and solo career. Moreover, Queen’s involvement proved to be a tremendous boon for the event’s organisers.
“People were watching in the UK, but they weren’t calling in to pledge money, which was what the whole concert was about,” says King. “Freddie came on and did a set that the band had rehearsed for three weeks, so it was a perfect 20-minute set, and he brought everyone together. He made them realise what the event was all about.
“When Freddie told people to phone in, people listened and started phoning in. Queen got the largest single donation, around £1 million, which in those days was huge!”
Brian May recalls the rush of performing on the day: “It was a one-off and kind of terrifying in a very nice way. Like every gig, there was that great relief coming off the stage. You’re just glad nothing terrible happened, there were no train wrecks, and you’ve kind of acquitted yourself well. It was a great feeling [and] a great memory because everyone brushed their egos aside and supported and encouraged each other.”
A KIND OF MAGIC
King describes Bohemian Rhapsody as “a really uplifting film” and believes it sends an important message to the younger generation.
“I hope that if there’s anyone in the audience who is confused or being bullied or feeling like an outcast, they would take to heart what Mary says to Freddie in the film: ‘Don’t you see who you can be? Anything you want to be.’”
He’s also certain that, along with Mercury’s story, the music of Queen will resonate strongly with an audience.
“I want people to come out of this film and hug the person they’re next to and sing along with Queen songs. We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody– all these songs are larger-than-life and can’t help but put a smile on your face.”