Taron Egerton in Rocketman

Here’s Why Rocketman’s Creative Liberties Worked but Bohemian Rhapsody’s Didn’t

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As someone who was equally as excited about Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, it truly devastated me that I can’t take watching BoRap more than once, mainly because it’s filled with lies that are now being taken as fact. Why is that? Because the filmmakers behind it crafted the movie as a biopic.

The definition of a biopic is simple: a movie that dramatizes the life of a real person or people. To put it simply, that means that the information presented should be accurate, at the very least in broad strokes. So, why was Bohemian Rhapsody so inaccurate in its depiction of Freddie Mercury and Queen?

As this video points out, there were quite a few falsehoods in the film, and therein lies my problem with Bohemian Rhapsody. Details in movies like these are frequently changed to make for a more compelling cinematic experience, but there needs to be a balance between that and doing justice to your source material.

Flip over to Rocketman, and you have the perfect example of taking liberties with a story but having the right to do so. In no way does Rocketman try to sell itself as a perfectly accurate telling of Elton John’s life. Elton literally flies off a stage like a rocket and lands in a plane at one point (sorry to disappoint you if you thought that actually happened). If anything, it’s just a jukebox musical set around the life and music of Elton John. So, sure, some liberties can be taken, and we can even have a scene where Elton is playing “Candle in the Wind” in the ’60s, even though the song was released in 1973.

My issues with Bohemian Rhapsody come strictly from the presentation of lies as facts. Unlike what we were shown in the movie, Queen never broke up, Freddie Mercury didn’t know he was HIV positive before Live Aid, and that’s not how “We Will Rock You” was made. In Rocketman, watching as Elton John does things that are clearly fantasy ensures that the audience understands that 90% of what we’re seeing is (a) a creative choice and (b) unreliable, because we’re being told this story from Elton’s perspective.

Do I think it’s fair that Freddie Mercury’s story was made in a way that didn’t show the best parts of Freddie? Absolutely not, and I know the argument is that it was a movie about Queen, but if you watch Bohemian Rhapsody, there sure are lots of lies about Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in a movie about Queen. You can like Bohemian Rhapsody; I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but I am pointing out that you cannot take what is presented to you as fact, and that’s the fault of the filmmakers for not making that clear to the audience.

I don’t like Queen any less than I like Elton John. They’re equal loves to me, but if we’re talking about the movies that have come out about them, I don’t think Bohemian Rhapsody deserved the praise it got, due to this particular failing.

Maybe don’t make a biopic about someone and try to present it as a straightforward thing. It very rarely works and is often inaccurate.

(image: Paramount Pictures)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.