Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Leave Freddie Mercury's private life alone

King of Queen: Freddie Mercury

Sasha Baron Cohen has – to use film parlance – walked from the high-profile biopic of Queen legend Freddie Mercury, reportedly citing 'creative differences' with band members who hold final veto over the manuscript.

This is normally translated by the media as 'I' want to make art and tell truth; 'they' want to tell a bunch of whitewashed lies and make wads of cash.

But this is not a case of right vs wrong. No, it's rather more complex than that.

Cohen reportedly wanted the film to concentrate on Mercury's rather, er, 'hedonistic' sex life during the Seventies and early Eighties before the advent of Aids. The band weren't apparently so keen on their frontman's private life being so graphically portrayed. They also thought that it should be the story of Queen as opposed to Freddie and some extras.

I find it hard not to have sympathy for Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor. After all, they made a vow to Freddie as he lay dying that they would protect his reputation.

More vitally, however, concentration on 'facts' can lead to the direct opposite of the truth. Freddie Mercury was the ultimate showman – flash, glamorous, ludicrous, all self-mocking pomposity and genius in equal measure. He was also a daring comic talent: all the leotards, those Tom of Finland moustaches and performing in a band called Queen. And we deluded ourselves that he wasn't gay.

But that wasn't quite the truth, either. Mercury actually transcended sexual orientation. We all 'knew' and, in truth, we didn't care.

Mercury wasn't hiding in plain sight. He was standing in plain sight and saying "So what?" His daring silenced the gossipmongers.

So why define Mercury by his sexuality and drug taking? I don't think an 'official' version of the film would deny the undeniable: Mercury slept with both men and women and lived life to excess but it is shallow to think that the most graphic account is necessarily the most 'honest'.

Reports say that Johnny Depp – who knows something of the portrayal of excess – is set to step in. A proper star, he might bring insight, intelligence and humour to the role.

Sometimes it is the legend that tells the more profound truth. And Freddie is the ultimate contemporary legend. He and that legend deserve all due respect.

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