How ‘Bohemian Rhapsody' Lied About Queen Breaking Up and Freddie Mercury's HIV diagnosis

Image result for live aid mercury

Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” delivered great numbers at the week-end box-office this past weekend with a $50M debut. I stated that the rock biopic had most likely been reborn because of its success. As for the film's quality, I found its strongest moments to be the musical sections; the band putting together some of their most well-known songs in the studio and, of course, a blistering 11 minute recreation of their legendary 1985 Live Aid performance.

There have already been plenty of writeups about how the film "de-queered" lead singer Freddie Mercury. However, the most troublesome part of the film, for me at least, was how it took liberties and depicted events that never actually happened in Mercury's life.

Of course,the handicap that any biopic will have in telling a whole life's worth in just 2 hours is understandable. Not to mention the restrictions that come in aiming for a PG-13 rating. It happens all the time and director Bryan Singer's film is no exception. However, screenwriter Brian McCarten has quite clearly changed history for major dramatic effect in 'Rhapsody,' especially in the film's final stretch where he posits bogus claims about the band breaking up, Mercury's HIV diagnosis and the legendary "Live Aid" concert being surrounded by all the aforementioned drama. 

Here are the most notable flaws I found when it came to the film's knack in re-writing history:

  • In the first few minutes, Singer's film shows Mercury, after fighting with his strict parents, attending a 1970 gig by Brian May and Roger Taylor’s pre-Queen band Smile. He goes backstage after the show to meet the band and offers his services as lead vocalist, this is of course done, conveniently, just a few minutes after Smile's bassist/singer Tim Staffell quits the band. However, what actually happened was that Mercury knew Staffell long before that gig and kept pestering him, for months on end, before Brian May finally decided he can join the band. 

  • The film depicts an existentially confused Mercury splitting up the band. However, Queen never broke up. Mercury signing a solo deal behind their back never happened and the band didn't all of a sudden get back together for "Live Aid" because, well, there never was a breakup. The truth is that Queen was a consistent touring machine for the better part of 10 years and that they were exhausted to the point of having to take a few months off to regain energy. They all wanted the break. Singer's film makes it look like they were estranged and bitter at Mercury, which just wasn't the case.

  • Finally, Mercury biographers have always maintained that the lead singer got his AIDS diagnosis between either late 1986 or early 1987. We are not entirely sure of the exact date,  but it most definitely didn't happen right before the Live Aid concert in 1985. In the film, Mercury tells the band he is HIV-positive during Live Aid rehearsals. McCarten and Singer had the clear intent of changing history for dramatic effect. With the band 'reuniting' for the concert and Mercury telling them that he is HIV positive right before, it gives the gig an added emotional dimension in the film. Alas, Hollywood is relentless with these kind of things, they want history to go their way rather than how it was actually recorded in the books.