Bohemian Catastrophe: Just what is going wrong with Queen’s Freddie Mercury film?

Last month, on the anniversary of Freddie Mercury’s death, I penned a potted history of Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice’s cheeky and cheesy appropriation of Under Pressure, the Queen & David Bowie classic from 1981.

The news of the world for this week is that the upcoming Freddie biopic, imaginatively titled Bohemian Rhapsody, is again on a rather rocky trajectory. The movie, one of the most catastrophic cinematic ventures of the decade, has been fraught with problems ever since its conception, including two changes in writer, three different lead actors and two disbanded directors.

Armed with a script by Peter Morgan, who wrote the Oscar-winning The Queen, Brian May and Roger Taylor from Queen (the other one) have been closely airbrushing, sorry, overseeing the film, zealously trying to ensure that it retells the ‘proper’ story of their gay bandmate; 15 years of Freddie Mercury’s life through the prism of his rise to fame as the flamboyant frontman of one of the most popular British bands of all time.

They are the champions. Allegedly

That control-freakery extended to getting shot of original lead Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G, Borat, Bruno) when he tried to exert too much creative control over the troubled project. Shortly afterwards, Paddington star Ben Whishaw (Q in the Bond films) joined the production as Fred while Dexter Fletcher was set to direct, though by 2014 they’d both departed, citing a disagreement on the direction of the film, and according to Whishaw, “problems getting the script working.” In 2015, attempts to get the film back and running were made, bringing in The Theory of Everything screenwriter Anthony McCarten.

No one couldn’t, however, have predicted that another one would bite the dust. Replacement director Bryan Singer, whose resume includes directing The Usual Suspects, the X-Men series and Superman Returns. left the production at Thanksgiving, citing illness. The Hollywood Reporter had reported on Monday that Singer had clashed with lead actor Rami Malek (Mercury) and failed to show up for filming on multiple occasions.

Twentieth Century Fox then halted production, “due to the unexpected unavailability of Bryan Singer,” they announced. Singer’s people followed with their own statement, insisting “This is a personal health matter concerning Bryan and his family. Bryan hopes to get back to work on the film soon after the holidays.”

The film includes also performances by Joseph Mazzello, Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy as the rest of the band

Twentieth Century Fox then casually revealed today that Bryan Singer was no longer the director of the film. A source told the BBC the main reason for the firing was “a pattern of unreliable behaviour on the set”. Singer said his dumping came while he was sick and that the studio was “unwilling to accommodate” him during his illness, and that he was disappointed not to be able to finish the film, “a passion project of mine”.

I can’t help but wonder if some Weinstein-type scandal is about to break? According to Deadline, the film is only two weeks away from ending principal photography and, of course, a lengthy break, especially one that could stretch to over a month, could lead to scheduling conflicts with the film’s cast and crew.

The film went into production in July while a replica of the 1985 Live Aid set at Wembley Stadium – site of the band’s triumphant set before a live global audience of hundreds of millions – was recreated at an airfield in Hertfordshire. Despite the series of setbacks, the turkey is still expected to be served in time for Christmas 2018 as planned.

Steve Pafford