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For a biopic, the facts were certainly scattershot. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top ten things Bohemian Rhapsody got factually right and wrong.
For this list, we’ll be looking at which moments from the 2018 Queen biopic were based in reality and which were fictionally dramatized for the screen.
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#10: Freddie Credited His Extra Teeth for His Voice: TRUE
The most distinctive physical feature of Freddie Mercury is arguably his massive overbite. In the movie, Freddie explains to the band that he was born with extra incisors and that the extra space in his mouth helps with his vocal range. While this could have been something the movie made up to address his overbite, it is actually true. Rudi Dolezal, the founder of a company that filmed various Queen music videos and documentaries, states that Freddie was always afraid of having his mouth fixed because he thought it would negatively affect his voice. In Dolezal’s words, “He was more concerned with his voice than his looks, and I think that says a lot about the man.”
#9: Queen Sold Their Touring Van to Produce Their Debut Album: FALSE
The main thing Bohemian Rhapsody is criticized for is needlessly adhering to music biopic clichés. This is unfortunately one of them. In the movie, the cash-strapped band sells its tour van for precious studio time. In real life, Queen got extremely lucky when the Sheffield brothers of Trident Studios provided them free access to their popular, state-of-the-art facility in exchange for managerial rights and having Queen work during off-peak hours. Roger Taylor loved working during the studio’s downtime, calling it “gold dust.” However, a privileged band with free access to cutting edge equipment doesn’t make for an interesting underdog story now, does it?
#8: The Band Clashed with a Record Executive Named Ray Foster: FALSE
A major antagonist in the movie is EMI executive Ray Foster, played by a nearly unrecognizable Mike Myers. He’s a grumpy, greedy man who hates Queen’s eclectic music and tells them to make more commercial songs so he can make more money. However, this is yet another fabrication and biopic cliché. In fact, Ray Foster is not even a real person, but a character very loosely based on EMI’s Roy Featherstone. We say loosely based because Roy actually loved Queen’s music and was almost nothing like Ray. Foster is a one-dimensional placeholder meant to personify the band’s obstacles and nothing more.
#7: Freddie & Mary’s Relationship Lasted Throughout Freddie’s Life: TRUE
As nonsensical as the business side of the movie is, it stayed relatively true to Freddie’s lifelong friendship with Mary Austin. In the movie, Mary leaves Freddie after he comes out as bisexual, but remains by his side until his death in 1991. Freddie and Mary were incredibly close in real life, and Freddie even bought Mary her own place near 12 Stafford Terrace after she called off their relationship. Freddie later served as the godfather to Mary’s son, Richard, and Mary cared for Freddie in his final days. Mercury has even been quoted saying that Mary was his only true friend and that no sexual partner could ever replace his love for her.
#6: ‘We Will Rock You’ Was Written in the ‘80s: FALSE
Bohemian Rhapsody really plays fast and loose with the band’s chronology, and for seemingly no reason. The movie weirdly has us believe that Brian May wrote "We Will Rock You" in the 1980s, which was well into Queen’s worldwide dominance. In reality, "We Will Rock You" was the opening track on News of the World, which was released in October 1977 and recorded the previous summer. It was a worldwide hit and was consistently played on the radio alongside "We Are the Champions." By 1980, "We Will Rock You" was one of Queen’s biggest songs and a concert staple due to the audience interaction.
#5: John Deacon Was the Band’s Original Bassist: FALSE
We understand wanting to cut this down for time, but despite what the movie may tell you, John Deacon was not the band’s original bassist. In Bohemian Rhapsody, Deacon plays with Queen during their first concert in 1970. However, 1970 was a turbulent time for Queen, as they were going through three different bassists—Mike Grose, Barry Mitchell, and Doug Ewood Bogie—all of whom left due to a lack of chemistry with the band. Deacon then met Taylor and May through a mutual friend and became Queen’s fourth bassist in February of 1971. He made his first live appearance with the band a few months later.
#4: Freddie Knew He Was HIV-Positive Before Live Aid: FALSE
The movie needs to end in dramatic fashion, so they manipulated the timeline to attain the desired results. At the climax of the movie, Freddie reveals to the band that he has AIDS during rehearsals for their Live Aid performance. They embrace, and the tears swell. Only, this isn’t even close to what happened. While no one knows definitively, Freddie’s partner Jim Hutton says that Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS in April 1987, nearly two years after Live Aid. Freddie was also extremely secretive about his illness, and while the band obviously knew that he was sick, Brian May says that they learned Freddie was HIV-positive only shortly before his death.
#3: "Bohemian Rhapsody" Was Considered Too Long: TRUE
Even though Ray Foster was not a real person, his main argument—that
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was way too long to be successful—was a real threat that the band faced. Queen was told by numerous record executives and fellow musicians that an unorthodox, nearly six-minute-long song would never be played on the radio. To get around this, they personally went to Capital Radio’s Kenny Everett, who helped generate interest by playing the song fourteen times in two days. The song then spent nine weeks atop the UK singles chart, but it received mixed reviews from critics, many of whom praised the song’s production but called it pretentious and disjointed.
#2: Freddie Was Conveniently at a Smile Concert as Their Lead Singer Quit: FALSE
Bohemian Rhapsody makes it seem as if the formation of Queen was governed by some higher power. Freddie storms out after a fight with his parents and randomly attends a Smile concert on the very night that their lead singer quits. He then wows the band with his talent and becomes their vocalist. Too bad this fortuitous meeting is total nonsense. In reality, Freddie Mercury (then Freddie Bulsara) was good friends with Smile’s vocalist Tim Staffell and was a huge follower of the band. Not only that, Freddie was introduced to Brian and Roger through Tim, ran a flea market with Roger, and even lived with his future bandmates in London for a brief time.
#1: Queen Split Up: FALSE
Enter musical biopic cliché #3—the band splits up. Freddie earns a solo deal that upsets the band, and Queen dissolves before dramatically returning for a reunion concert at Live Aid. The real story is far less theatrical (as real life often is). For one thing, Roger Taylor released a solo album before Mercury, so the whole “going solo” thing wasn’t a big deal. Furthermore, following a very short break in early 1983, Queen was together right up until Live Aid in July 1985, with The Works Tour, which encompassed 48 performances, having just wrapped two months prior. We suppose Live Aid was a reunion concert in that it was a reunion... after a whole two-month-long absence from the stage.