How Accurate Is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?


The Big Picture

  • Bohemian Rhapsody‘s portrayal of Freddie Mercury joining the band Smile is embellished for dramatic effect, as the true story is less dramatic and more amicable.
  • Many of the supporting characters in the film, such as Mary Austin and Jim Hutton, were real people in Mercury’s life, although their interactions with him were not exactly as depicted in the movie.
  • The film takes some liberties with the timeline of events, including the portrayal of Mercury’s estrangement from his bandmates and the timing of his HIV diagnosis, which may frustrate die-hard Queen fans.

Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, off of their 1975 album A Night at the Opera, is the source of two great moments in filmdom. The first is the iconic sing-along in Garth’s (Dana Carvey) Mirthmobile from 1992’s Wayne’s World, the moment that validated singing in cars for thousands (not). The second is the 2018 music biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, a dramatization of the life of Queen’s charismatic front-man Freddie Mercury, from his beginnings to his excesses, and, finally, his heart-breaking death from AIDS. Bohemian Rhapsody won four Oscars at the 91st Academy Awards, the most of any film that year, including Best Actor for Rami Malek. It also took home Golden Globes for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and Best Motion Picture – Drama (Bohemian Rhapsody fell to Green Book for the Best Picture Oscar). Well-made, stellar cast, and a box-office hit… but just how accurate is Bohemian Rhapsody?

Bohemian Rhapsody

Release Date
October 24, 2018


135 minutes

Main Genre

How Did Freddie Mercury Join Queen?

Bohemian Rhapsody likens Freddie Mercury’s first performance with Smile, the band that would ultimately become Queen, to love at first sight, with Mercury being at the right place at the right time. According to the film, Mercury is at a London club, attending a concert put on by Smile. Following the show, lead singer Tim Staffell (Jack Roth) quits the band in a huff. Sensing the opportunity, Mercury introduces himself to the remaining band members, absolutely crushes an a cappella version of Smile’s “Doin’ Alright”, and, just like that, Smile has a new lead singer. If it were true – and it’s not, we’ll get to that shortly – it would go down as one of life’s greatest strokes of luck, a once-in-a-lifetime moment where the stars aligned to create something amazing.

The true story is far less dramatic, according to Staffell himself. Staffell’s departure from Smile was not heated, but perfectly amicable. Staffell was looking to explore new avenues musically and had already been auditioning with bands more geared towards improvisational jazz and blues. Mercury didn’t just happen upon the band, either. He was already good friends with the band members and already had a friendship with Staffell that started in college when they were in the same art class. His intention to be the band’s singer was made clear to Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) after Staffell left, made easier by the fact that Mercury had been living with the pair. As for Staffell, he was actually called in to add his vocals to “Doin’ Alright” for the movie, to distinguish the Smile version of the song from Queen’s more polished take. For the record, Mercury didn’t meet Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) that same night, nor was John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) the bassist for Queen’s first concert in 1970: he was the fourth, joining the band in 1971.

Which ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Characters Were Real People?

The supporting cast of Bohemian Rhapsody is a veritable menagerie of people who were in Mercury’s and by extension Queen’s, life. Mary Austin, although not meeting Mercury under the circumstances the film would have you believe, was indeed Mercury’s long-term girlfriend (and was actually May’s girlfriend prior to Mercury), and just like in the film the pair remained close throughout his life, even though their romantic relationship ended. Jim Hutton, Mercury’s partner, was not a server at one of Mercury’s infamous parties, one who turned down Mercury’s advances that evening, but would reconnect with Mercury after the singer looked him up years later. Hutton, a hairdresser, didn’t meet Mercury until 1985 at a gay nightclub and stayed with him until Mercury’s death in 1991. On a related note, those parties may seem to have been pumped up for the film but, as the band confessed to Entertainment Weekly, they really were that excessive.


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Bohemian Rhapsody boasts two characters that would best be described as “villainous,” although one is far less so than the other. Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), Mercury’s personal manager and lover, is the definitive villain of the piece. His influence on Mercury, both career-wise and personally, is decidedly negative, pushing Mercury into a downward spiral he would never fully recover from. Prenter is just as vilified in real life, rightly so, where fan forums have bequeathed him with names like “Judas” and “Devil’s Spawn.” Although the timing of Mercury firing Prenter is a little off (it was after Live Aid, not before), the fact that Prenter went to the press about Mercury’s homosexuality is true but was far more hurtful and damaging in real life than what was shown on film. Prenter’s initial story in the Sun stated that Aids had killed two of Mercury’s lovers, outing the singer in the process. It was a flat-out betrayal.

Hutton speaks about it, as referenced in The Mirror: “We later learned that Prenter had been paid about £32,000 by the paper for his story. Freddie never spoke to him again. For the next few days, there was more in the Sun, and at each episode of Prenter’s story Freddie became angrier.” The other villain isn’t even a real person, and his act is far more lighthearted. EMI record executive Ray Foster, played by Mike Myers, tells the band that he refuses to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single, and the band leaves EMI as a result. Foster isn’t real, although having Myers in a cameo is an amusing nod to the aforementioned Wayne’s World moment. According to Rolling Stone, Foster is based on EMI chief Roy Featherstone, who was a huge fan of the band. He did think the song was too long to be released as a single but didn’t outright block its release. By the way, EMI and Queen continued their relationship until 2010.

What Is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’s Most Glaring Issue?

Issues with the timing of events in Bohemian Rhapsody have already been mentioned a few times here, but there are a number of far more glaring inconsistencies with the timeline when compared to the true story. For starters, Mercury enrages his bandmates by disclosing he had signed a solo deal behind their back in the film. However, as per E! News, there was never any estrangement, Mercury fully participated in the 1984 release of Queen’s The Works and its accompanying tour while recording his 1985 solo album Mr. Bad Guy, and Taylor was actually the first band member to record a solo album, 1981’s Fun in Space – again, with no hard feelings. In the film, Queen was on the outs for years before reuniting to play Live Aid in 1985. Great story, but untrue. Besides never really being on the outs, as mentioned previously, the last show of the The Works tour was a mere eight weeks prior to Live Aid, as stated in Rolling Stone. So if they were on the outs, they certainly weren’t for long.

The most damning indictment of the timeline in Bohemian Rhapsody begins with the scene where Mercury discloses his HIV diagnosis to his friends when they reunite to prepare for Live Aid. Which they never reunited for, never having been un-united in the first place. It’s an over-sentimental moment, one that pushes the band to a hugely successful “Let’s do it for Freddie” set at Live Aid. In reality, Mercury’s HIV diagnosis was disclosed to Austin in 1987, as doctors were unable to contact Mercury directly, and she passed along the news. E! News cites Taylor’s account of the band not being made aware of Mercury’s illness until early 1989, and didn’t publicly divulge his illness until 1991, the year he succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia.

However, after all is said and done, the inconsistencies of Bohemian Rhapsody are more likely to irk die-hard Queen fans more than the average movie viewer. They may, in fact, drive those fans “Stone Cold Crazy.”

Bohemian Rhapsody is available to stream in the U.S. on Fubo



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