Bohemian Rhapsody: How historically accurate is the Queen biopic?

Hanna Flint
Contributor
Is this the real story or is it just fantasy?

Bohemian Rhapsody is set to be the most financially successful music biopic of all time but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely accurate.

In fact, there are several ways in which Bryan Singer has manipulated the truth for dramatic purposes, from the band’s origins to the famous Live Aid performance that the film puts considerable emphasis on.

So to clear things up a bit here are nine aspects of the new movie that aren’t the most factual.

SPOILERS AHEAD!


1. Freddie Mercury didn’t meet his future bandmates at a Smile gig

The film sees Rami Malek’s Farrokh Bulsara (Freddie’s real name) meet Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) after a gig for their first band Smile, offering himself as a replacement for Tim Staffwell who had just quit to join another group.

In reality, Farrokh/Freddie knew Tim from college and even shared a flat with Brian and Roger so when Staffwell moved on Fred was the natural choice to join the band.

2. Freddie wasn’t the first Queen member to date Mary Austin 

Lucy Boynton plays Freddie’s long-time love in the movie, a woman who the singer considered his common-law wife despite their inevitable break-up due to his fluid sexuality. The film suggests he spotted her while performing for the first time with his Queen bandmates but according to Brian May he actually dated Mary first.

“Strangely enough, Mary was the girl that I picked out as somebody fabulous, and I was kind of going out with her,” May told Yahoo Entertainment. “And Freddie came up to me one day and said, ‘Are you serious with Mary? Can I ask her out?’ And he did, and they were lovers for a long time.” 

Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton as Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin

3. There was no rift between Mary and Freddie either

After Freddie comes out to Mary the story seems to suggest that she pulled away from him because of his partying and hedonistic lifestyle but there is no evidence for this.

The pair were life-long friends; Freddie even described Mary as his soulmate and left most of his wealth to her as well as his Kensington home. Speaking to OK magazine about their bond, Austin said: “I lost somebody who I thought was my eternal love. When he died I felt we’d had a marriage. We’d lived our vows. We’d done it for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. You could never have let go of Freddie unless he died — and even then it was difficult.”

Freddie even created a job for her to become a secretary for his music publishing business, and she nursed him during his illness, so it seems unlikely they went for any long period without talking or fell out at all.

4. Ray Foster never existed

Mike Myers’ role in the film seems to be specifically designed just so Singer could make a Wayne’s World reference. There was never a Ray Foster at EMI records, though executives weren’t keen on “Bohemian Rhapsody” being the lead single from the album A Night at the Opera.

5. Queen never broke up

The villain of the film is Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), who is depicted as first the assistant to Aiden Gillen’s manager John Reid before becoming Mercury’s manager and lover. The movie would have you believe that Paul duped John into getting himself fired (for suggesting Freddie went solo) and that he split the band up so that he could control the lead singer and his music completely from Munich.

Paul was Freddie’s manager from 1980-1985 but the band never split up during that period, they just took a time out from Queen music to work on solo stuff though they all went to Germany to record the 1982 album Hot Space. It was considered one of the band’s worst outputs and Prenter is blamed for its musical direction.

 “We went through a bad period in Munich” May told Mojo magazine in 1999. “We struggled bitterly with each other. I remember John saying I didn’t play the kind of guitar he wanted on his songs. We all tried [to] leave the band more than once.”

The surviving Queen members have never really spoken favorably of Prenter but as he died in 1991 Singer had free reign to present him however he wanted.

6. Prenter didn’t cause the Live Aid drama either

The film suggests that during the band’s “split,” Brian, Roger and John Deacon (Joseph Mazello) tried to reach out to Freddie to get him to do the concert but Paul deliberately didn’t pass on the message.

Allen Leech as Paul Prenter and Aidan Gillen as John Reid

That didn’t happen, rather Bob Geldof was reluctant to invite the band to perform as they not only performed in Argentina in 1981 – when the country’s dictatorship was murdering citizens and progressives on the Left –  but also in South Africa during the Apartheid. The UN had asked performers to boycott the country while the racist regime was still in power but they had played at Sun City anyway.

Queen had also toured two months before Live Aid so the idea that they had been broken up for a long time before Freddie came grovelling back to the band is also a massive piece of fiction.

7. Freddie wasn’t diagnosed with HIV before Live Aid

Roger Taylor says that Freddie didn’t reveal his HIV diagnosis to them until 1989 but in the film, he tells his bandmates just before Live Aid in 1985. Mercury only confirmed his diagnosis in a statement released a day before his death on 24 November 1991.

It also seems rather unlikely that a young AIDs sufferer sang “eh oh” to Freddie as he was coming out of the fateful doctors’ appointment that informed him of his diagnosis.

Queen didn’t learn of Freddie’s HIV diagnosis until after Live Aid

8. Mercury didn’t meet Jim Hutton at his house party

Jim Hutton was Freddie’s partner until his death but they didn’t meet while the former was working as a cater-waiter at one of the singer’s parties. He actually met Freddie at a gay club, he was working as a barber at the Savoy hotel, though there are some reports that he turned the Queen frontman down because he was already in a relationship.

Freddie and Jim got together in 1985 and they stayed together until his death. Jim died in 2010.

9. Freddie didn’t come out to his parents either

Just before he performs at Live Aid, Freddie takes Jim around to his parents’ house to introduce them to him as his friend, though it’s heavily implied that the scene is him coming out. In reality, Freddie’s mum and dad only knew Jim as their son’s gardener.

Freddie famously refused to label his sexuality and many of his friends have spoken of him having both male and female lovers in the years since his split from Mary. His relationship with Jim only came out because Paul Prenter sold a story to The Sun, not during a tell-all TV interview like the film suggests, but as the producers wanted to make Bohemian Rhapsody family-friendly, a sanitised exploration (if you can call it that) of his sexuality was offered instead.

Bohemian Rhapsody is in cinemas now

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