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Fact-Checking the Queen Biopic, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Contrary to claims in the movie, the group didn’t break up before Live Aid, John Deacon wasn’t the original bassist and they never battled an executive named Ray Foster

Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury) in "Bohemian Rhapsody", 2018.

Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury) star in the 'Bohemian Rhapsody'biopic about the band Queen.

Alex Bailey

Nobody goes into a movie expecting a pristine history lesson. Cramming the entire saga of a rock band like Queen into a two-hour PG-13 movie necessitates making a fair amount of difficult decisions. While big moments like Freddie Mercury’s first show with the band and their triumphant set at Live Aid undoubtably need to be shown, there’s simply no room to delve into every album, tour and everything else they went through across their two-decade career. Huge periods of time need to be shown in a montage or not even referenced at all. It’s also hard to avoid playing a little fast and loose with the facts for dramatic purposes — or simply to save time. That said, we still wanted to put Bohemian Rhapsody under the microscope to see how Hollywood fudged the historical record. Here are eight examples where the movie didn’t line up with reality. Be warned: LOTS OF SPOILERS AHEAD!

Queen’s formation wasn’t quite that simple.
Bohemian Rhapsody shows Freddie Mercury stumbling into a 1970 gig by Brian May and Roger Taylor’s pre-Queen band Smile after a fight with his parents. He meets up with the band after the show, conveniently just minutes after their bassist/singer Tim Staffell decided to quit. The drummer and guitarist are initially skeptical of the stranger with the big teeth, but once he opens his mouth and delivers a stunning a-cappella rendition of their song “Doing Alright” they bring him into the fold. In reality, Mercury was longtime friends with Tim Staffell and was a huge fan of the band long before he joined. Brian May remembers him constantly badgering them about becoming a member, and they didn’t relent until Staffell quit in 1970.

John Deacon wasn’t the original bass player.
Bohemian Rhapsody shows John Deacon playing bass at the first Queen concert in 1970, but in reality he was the fourth bassist they tried and he didn’t enter the picture until 1971. They do show them playing “Keep Yourself Alive” at the first show, which was indeed an extremely early original tune in their repertoire.

Freddie didn’t meet Mary Austin the same night he joined the band.
In the movie, Freddie meets his future girlfriend Mary Austin about 30 seconds before he first encounters the band and becomes a member. The reality, of course, is much more complicated. Austin briefly dated Brian May, but she didn’t enter Freddie’s orbit until he was already the lead singer of the band.

There wasn’t an actual record executive named Ray Foster.
In one of the movie’s more interesting casting decisions, a nearly unrecognizable Mike Myers portrays record executive Ray Foster. His main role is to tell Queen they need to make more commercial music. He also hates “Bohemian Rhapsody” when he first hears it and refuses to release it as a single, causing the group to walk out in disgust and throw a rock through his window. The character is roughly based on EMI chief Roy Featherstone, but he was actually a huge fans of the band. It was true, however, that he thought “Bohemian Rhapsody” was too long to be a single. Everything else about the character, however, is fictional.

Freddie’s boyfriend Jim Hutton didn’t begin as his servant.
In the movie, a drunk and dejected Freddie makes a sloppy pass at a server named Jim Hutton after a particularly debauched party. Hutton rejects him, but they talk long into the night and years later Mercury looks him up in the phone book and they begin dating. In real life, Hutton was a hairdresser who worked at the Savoy Hotel. They met at a nightclub.

The group never split up.
The movie veers the furthest from reality in the build-up to their 1985 performance at Live Aid. There’s a dramatic scene where Freddie reveals that he’s signed a solo deal behind their back for $4 million and that he wants to take a long break from the band. The others are absolutely livid and they all go their separate ways. The truth is that everyone in the band was burned out in 1983 after being on the road for a solid decade. They all wanted a break. The movie makes it seem like they didn’t speak to Freddie for years, but they actually began work on The Works in late 1983 and were never estranged.

Live Aid wasn’t a reunion.
In the movie, the group isn’t even on speaking terms when they get the offer to play Live Aid in 1985, and they hadn’t done a gig in years. It never mentions that they released The Works in early 1984 and then toured it all over the world. The last show of the tour was just eight weeks before Live Aid. They were extremely well-rehearsed by the time that show hit, but the movie shows them having to make peace with each other and get back into playing shape. It makes the performance more dramatic, but that’s not how it happened.

Freddie didn’t learn he was HIV-positive before Live Aid.
During rehearsals for Live Aid in the movie, Freddie reveals to the band that he is HIV-positive, but he wants to keep the news completely private and focus all his attention on music. The exact time that Mercury learned he had the disease remains somewhat under dispute, but nearly everyone pins it as occurring sometime between 1986 and 1987. He almost certainly had no clue when the group was rehearsing for Live Aid.

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