How ‘Rhapsody’ addresses Freddie Mercury’s sexuality
Warning: This article contains “Bohemian Rhapsody” spoilers.
The new Queen biopic offers a look into the sexuality of the band’s iconic frontman Freddie Mercury, but critics have questioned whether the film goes far enough.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” devotes considerable screen time to Mercury’s romance with Mary Austin — the woman he wrote the hit song “Love of My Life” about — before it starts to address his relationships with men near the halfway part of the movie.
The film does ultimately cover the rock legend’s tumultuous bond with his controversial manager Paul Prenter, and there are moments that imply he’s with other men, but “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t introduce his romance with his longtime and final partner, Jim Hutton, until near the end of the movie.
Rami Malek, who stars as Mercury, recently said he understands the complaints some have made about how the singer’s sexuality is handled in the film.
“He had a beautiful relationship with Jim Hutton, and we had a finite period in which we wanted to tell this story,” Malek told USA Today. “Believe me: There were conversations left and right about how to incorporate more of that story into this film. It was something I pushed for, to be quite honest, as much as possible and repeatedly brought to the attention of producers and directors and everyone who would listen.”
The real-life Mercury was notoriously private about his personal life and avoided speaking out about his sexuality, despite frequent speculation by fans and the media.
In the movie, he becomes engaged to Austin (played by Lucy Boynton), but appears to grow distant from her as he tours with his band, including a scene that shows him looking at another man as he speaks to her on the phone. She ultimately confronts him about his feelings toward the middle of the movie, at which point Mercury tells her he thinks he’s bisexual. Austin then replies that she believes Freddie is gay, not bisexual, and breaks off their engagement.
The film also depicts the moment where Mercury is diagnosed with AIDS, along with his declining health, and includes a scene where he tells his bandmates he has the disease.
Mercury only begins to date Hutton, whom he was in a relationship with from 1985 to 1991, toward the very end of the film. Hutton (played by Aaron McCusker) had only appeared in one other scene a little earlier in the movie at that point.
Viewers were critical of the initial trailer when it premiered in May, with some believing it blatantly ignored Mercury’s role as an LGBTQ icon.
Boynton recently defended the way the film portrays Mercury.
“It’s when people want to have something to criticize that is kind of jarring, especially because it does (address it), and the one thing that we’re so proud of with this film is that I don’t feel it ever steps over the line into any kind of expose or intrusiveness,” Boynton told Digital Spy.
“(People) always ask about the darkness of Freddie and such and it’s like, it’s a celebration and ode to (him),” she continued.
Mercury’s bandmate, guitarist Brian May, said in 2008, meanwhile, that he wasn’t aware of Mercury’s sexuality during the early days of the band.
“You’re talking to someone who shared rooms with Fred on the first couple of tours, so I knew him pretty well. I knew a lot of his girlfriends and he certainly didn’t have boyfriends in those days, that’s for sure,” May told the Daily Express at the time.
“I think there was a slight suspicion, but it never occurred to me that he was gay,” he continued. “In those days it was the fashion to be kind of dandyish and I suppose we had a hand in creating the fashion, so there was this doubt in people’s minds as to whether you might be gay or not.”
Mercury confirmed he was battling AIDS in November 1991, a little over a day before he passed away at the age of 45.
“Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me,” Mercury said in a statement.
The final scene in “Bohemian Rhapsody” takes place in 1985, but the film addresses Mercury’s death with text on the screen ahead of the credits.
Mercury, who was in a relationship with Austin from 1970 to 1976, remained close with her until his death, and he left her a large portion of his fortune, including his London estate.
“I hope people do not feel that the film does a disservice to the community, and if it were me, I would’ve loved to have incorporated more,” Malek told USA Today.