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I want to break free: the 8-year struggle to bring Bohemian Rhapsody to the big screen


This year, Queen, one of the most iconic bands in music history, are getting their own feature film, Bohemian Rhapsody, with a focus on the legendary front man, the one and only Freddie Mercury.

While we're eagerly awaiting the arrival of Bohemian Rhapsody this October, the film has had a rough journey getting to the big screen. Of course it's going to be worth it, with the film exploring everything from how the band came to be, to the creation of one of the biggest songs in pop culture and Mercury's friendship with Mary Austin.

But with casting changes, directors being fired and numerous delays, Bohemian Rhapsody has undergone one of the most complicated productions in recent film history. So let's go back to the beginning to when the film was originally announced in 2010. (To refresh your mind as to how long ago that was, that was the year Inception, Toy Story 3 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 came to cinemas…)

The original frontman

Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G Indahouse, Borat, Grimsby) was initially set to portray Mercury, a role about which he was passionate. Oscar nominee Peter Morgan (The Crown, The Queen, Frost Nixon, The Damned United) was enlisted to write the screenplay, promising to bring his characteristic blend of authenticity and insight.

Nevertheless, Queen expressed concern that they did not want the film to hurt Mercury's legacy. Fast forward a few years to 2013, and Cohen left the production of the Queen biopic. Supposedly, he wanted the film to focus deeper on Mercury's life, something with which guitarist Brian May was uncomfortable. May revealed that they left on good terms, however.

The next phase

Ben Whishaw (Paddington, Skyfall and this year Mary Poppins Returns) signed on as Cohen's replacement around the same time that Dexter Fletcher (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Layer Cake) was confirmed to be directing. The news was received warmly, owing to Fletcher's critically acclaimed directorial features Wild Bill, Sunshine on Leith and Eddie the Eagle. It finally looked like the film was going ahead.

Early in 2014, Fletcher left the film, four years after it was first announced. Again, this was over creative differences. Whishaw also commented during this time that there were scripting issues delaying the production. Eventually, Whishaw left too, while rumours circulated that Cohen was back to portray Freddie Mercury.

A new screenwriter was brought on, Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour), and shortly after the film received the working title of Bohemian Rhapsody, which eventually stuck. Fletcher's replacement was Bryan Singer, famous for directing The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns and numerous films in the X-Men franchise.

Finding Freddie

Bohemian Rhapsody was still missing its Freddie Mercury though, and you can't have a film about Queen without him. In 2016, Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Night at the Museum) was cast, and it's been almost smooth sailing since then.

Malek watched all the footage he could of Mercury and read up on the legend, determined to get the part right, which is already convincing from the looks of the trailer. He sought to get under the skin of the late singer, one possessed of unforgettable stage presence, who tragically passed away from complications from AIDS in 1991.

Gemma Arterton was announced to portray a very important woman in Mercury's life, Mary Austin, but the role eventually went to Lucy Boynton (Sing Street, Murder on the Orient Express). The remaining Queen band members are played by Ben Hardy (Eastenders, X-Men: Apocalypse), playing Roger Taylor, Gwilym Lee (Jamestown, Midsomer Murders) as Brian May and Joseph Mazzello (Jurassic Park, The Pacific) as John Deacon.

Further casting additions include Mike Myers (Austin Powers) as EMI records executive Ray Foster, Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) as Queen manager John Reid and Tom Hollander as Jim Beach, Queen's other manager.

Notes of discord

There was one last major blip in Bohemian Rhapsody's production. In December last year, Singer was fired with only two weeks left to film. Rumours indicate that Singer was falling out with the cast and turning up late to the set. Regardless, Dexter Fletcher returned as director to complete the film. However due to rules by Directors Guild of America, Singer will receive the directing credit, not Fletcher.

However, in the indomitable spirit of Mercury himself, the film overcame all the troubles to rock on. It's hard to believe that we will finally be able to see the story of how one of the most famous bands in the world came to be, and how they put their stamp on music history.

Click here to book your tickets for Bohemian Rhapsody
, released in Cineworld on 24th October. Tweet us @Cineworld if you think the movie will rock you.

Nadine Shambrook is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.