Bohemian Hacksody: Malek is Mercury

After two left-field casting choices for real life figures have been announced recently, Errol Kerr takes a look at the highs and lows of the biopic genre and shares his views

Errol Kerr
21st November 2016

Recently, Gary Oldman has been announced to play Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s biopic Darkest Hour, and with Rami Malek’s latest casting as Freddie Mercury in the biopic project entitled Bohemian Rhapsody, I have regained some faint hope for the biopic genre. To be honest, whilst these could go remarkably well, I’m still incredibly sceptical. Certain award-winning biopics, such as The Queen starring Dame Helen Mirren, are absolutely spectacular, and are well-deserving of recognition, but I’ve seen far too many biopics which have been far too insensitive for my liking. And I’ve got a relatively thick shell.

“Ben Kingsley as Gandhi? As you can imagine, I’m quite sceptical of the biopic genre”

The most recent draft of Bohemian Rhapsody was written by Anthony McCarten, who wrote the script for The Theory of Everything, the recent biopic on Stephen Hawking. In reference to this film and many others, there’s a recurring issue in biopic films that they’re often really good, but the casting choices are poor in respect to the individuals in centre. Eddie Redmayne is undeniably a good actor – his performance as Marius in Les Misérables as my favourite of the film, and I’m very excited to see him in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but seeing him as Stephen Hawking was a tad bit infuriating for myself. This is for the same reason as I wasn’t pleased seeing him as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl – there’s no way that he can really fit into this role. Hawking is a man with severe motor neurone disease, and Elbe was a transgender woman. Redmayne is neither of these.

“Will Malek’s Mercury correctly explore elements of the Queen singer’s sexuality?”

In all honesty, it wouldn’t take too much effort to cast a disabled actor as Hawking. It wouldn’t have taken any effort to cast a transgender woman as Lili Elbe. But in all honesty, this all pales in comparison – no pun intended – to Oscar-nominated 1982 film Gandhi. Starring Ben Kingsley. As Gandhi. You know, the white Yorkshireman. In blackface. As you can imagine, this was just infuriating. This is no Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, you can’t even remotely define this as satire. The worst part? A man in blackface was nominated for an Oscar. Would an Indian man playing as Gandhi get the same recognition?

As you can imagine therefore, I’m quite sceptical of the biopic genre, however I see some hope in the casting of Rami Malek, an American with Egyptian parents, playing Freddie Mercury, a Tanzanian born Briton. Seeing a western individual with African heritage playing a person with the same background gives me some hope – and Malek’s acting skills are fantastic, so there’s some hope yet.

I’ve seen a fair few biopics which have been decent – Benedict Cumberbatch’s work as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game was stellar, however certain elements – such as Cumberbatch’s general ‘emotionless’ character which he tends to play – did somewhat overshadow the biopic, and the film’s shyness about Turing’s homosexuality was something that was duly noted by many viewers.

It makes me wonder, will Malek’s Freddie Mercury correctly explore elements of his sexuality? Will Oldman’s Churchill explore his questioning faith and his descent into alcoholism? I suppose it’s only time that will tell now.

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