Taking in a worldwide gross of $870 million, Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody has left countless music fans thoroughly rocked. Charting the history of the band from their inception to that iconic 1985 Live Aid show, the 2018 film detailed most of the group’s crowning moments. With so much ground to cover, however, it’s no surprise that Bohemian Rhapsody also took some liberties with the truth. In fact, you won’t believe just how many facts this film managed to fudge in the name of entertainment.
20. Freddie Mercury knew his bandmates before forming Queen
Every music biopic needs an origin story, and Bohemian Rhapsody is no different. In the film, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) watches his future bandmates Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) play a gig with their first group, Smile. When that band’s vocalist Tim Staffell (Jack Roth) quits soon afterwards, Mercury introduces himself to the pair and offers his services as a singer. Following a rousing audition, May and Taylor invite him to join the group, and a musical legend is born.
Certainly, this scene serves as an interesting introduction to the band. But sadly, the group’s formation was a little more prosaic in real life. Rather than meeting May and Taylor at a gig, Mercury actually befriended Staffell first at Ealing Art College. And it was through his fellow student that the singer became acquainted with Smile. Moreover, Mercury didn’t become part of the group instantaneously, either. In fact, it would take months of pestering before May and Taylor allowed him to join.
19. Mercury didn’t meet Mary Austin at a Smile show
Besides meeting May and Taylor at his first Smile show, in the movie Mercury also discovers another important person in his life. Just before introducing himself to the soon-to-be members of Queen, the singer runs into Mary Austin, played by Lucy Boynton, outside the concert. Enamored, Mercury later visits Austin’s place of work and the two begin a relationship. As in real life, the pair stay together until Mercury comes to terms with his sexuality in the mid-1970s.
While Bohemian Rhapsody gets a lot right about the pair’s romance, their initial encounter was a little different in reality. Indeed, it wasn’t at a gig but rather at Austin’s workplace – the iconic 1960s boutique Biba – where the couple first met in 1969. And the film also neglected to mention one major detail about their relationship. As May divulged to Yahoo! Music in 2017, the guitarist himself “was kind of going out with [Austin]” before Mercury expressed his own interest in dating her.
18. John Deacon wasn’t their first bass player
Of course, Queen would have been nothing without their bass player John Deacon. From the smooth ostinato of “Under Pressure” to the slinky funk of “Another One Bites the Dust,” the musician’s basslines underpin some of the band’s greatest songs. So vital was he to Queen’s success, in fact, that Bohemian Rhapsody shows Deacon (Joe Mazzello) playing with the group from their first gig. However, this depiction is a little misleading.
Not only was Deacon not Queen’s original bass player, but he wasn’t even their second. In reality, the musician joined in 1971 – one year and three bassists after the group’s debut performance. But while he may not have been onstage with the band for their first gigs, Deacon was present in the audience for at least one of those concerts. Nonetheless, the chops that the group displayed when he first saw them apparently left the unimpressed bassist stone cold rather than crazy.
17. Mercury was a more polished performer at Queen’s first gig
For many groups, it takes years of practice to pin down a tight and powerful sound. Even great bands like Queen surely needed time to hone their craft and technique. And Bohemian Rhapsody reminds viewers that the rock titans had humble beginnings by depicting their debut 1970 gig together – back when they were still called Smile – as a mess. Not only are the band still finding their feet, but Mercury is also depicted as inexperienced and lacking finesse.
Contrary to what Bohemian Rhapsody put on-screen, however, Queen weren’t Mercury’s first band. In fact, the singer had fronted several other groups beforehand, most notably Ibex, which he’d joined in 1969. So in all likelihood, the star was a much more confident and professional performer by the time he co-founded Queen. As for the rest of them, the band reportedly played a riotous debut gig. Indeed, they even already had classic songs in their set such as “Stone Cold Crazy.”
16. Mercury didn’t create his mic stand at his debut Queen performance
Perhaps as iconic as the singer’s chevron mustache, Mercury’s microphone stand played an important part in his onstage image. And though it wasn’t of much practical use, the stand – consisting of just the top half of a normal support – gave the star something to work with in front of a crowd. In Bohemian Rhapsody, we’re shown how it comes into existence when Mercury snaps a complete stand in half out of annoyance during his first Queen gig.
As in the film, the singer really did create the accessory in front of an audience. Nevertheless, it didn’t happen during Queen’s first gig – or even a Queen concert for that matter. While playing a show with his previous band Ibex, Mercury suffered an embarrassing moment when his stand came apart. And rather than get a new one, the star just worked it into his act. The stand subsequently became a distinctive accoutrement that he’d use until his final performance.
15. They didn’t have to sell their van to make their first recordings
What would a music biopic be without a little drama? Certainly, the story of Queen has plenty of it. But this doesn’t mean that filmmakers didn’t engineer some artificial hardships to make the characters more sympathetic. Just take the case of their first recording sessions, for example. In the film, the group are forced to sell their touring van to raise money for a studio. Needless to say, this never happened in real life.
In contrast to the tale of adversary seen in the film, Queen actually got their first recordings for free. After being blown away by the band’s 1971 demo, manager Norman Sheffield gave Queen free use of his Trident recording studio in the wee hours of the morning. The resulting sessions would lead to their self-titled 1973 debut album. However, they would also create a conflict between the group and Sheffield that would last most of the decade.
14. John Reid didn’t manage the group from the get go
Of course, the members of Queen wouldn’t have become global superstars had it not been for a little outside help. And behind every great group is an equally great manager setting the wheels in motion behind the scenes. For Queen, their backstage guru came in the form of John Reid, who is shown managing the band from day one in Bohemian Rhapsody. But while Reid (Aidan Gillen) did play a part in the group’s success, he wasn’t there from the very start.
In reality, Reid first began managing the band in 1975. Before the impresario’s arrival, Queen were still locked in a poisonous relationship with Trident Studios and Norman Sheffield. Indeed, the business arrangement so frustrated the group that they wrote “Death on Two Legs” in Sheffield’s (dis)honor. One of the first jobs that Reid was tasked with was to break Queen away from Trident. But it wasn’t until 1977 that a settlement could be reached between the two parties.
13. “Seven Seas of Rhye” wasn’t completed during their first recording session
One of the first songs to get Queen noticed on the rock scene was “Seven Seas of Rhye.” A piano-led anthem, the three-minute number had all the early hallmarks of a Queen classic. And its success in the U.K. charts convinced the band that they could truly make it as musicians. Naturally, the creation of this important song is documented in Bohemian Rhapsody, where the group are shown prepping it for inclusion on their debut release.
Although “Seven Seas of Rhye” does feature on 1973’s Queen, the version on that debut album bore little resemblance to the rendition depicted on-screen. This is because by that time, the group only had the music written. Mercury later added lyrics in time for 1974’s Queen II. Due to the song’s status in the band’s canon, though, it’s easy to see why Bohemian Rhapsody alters its recording history. But, alas, it would take Queen a little longer to complete their breakthrough hit.
12. Mike Myers’ character never existed
With 1992’s Wayne’s World, Mike Myers introduced a new generation to Queen via a famous scene showing his character headbanging along to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” More than 25 years later, the favor was returned when the comic actor was cast in the Queen biopic as a record exec who frets over releasing the titular chart-topper. “We need a song teenagers can bang their heads to in a car,” his character protests. “‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is not that song.”
As awesome as this in-joke is, Myers’ character Ray Foster is nevertheless fictional. During an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2018, the actor admitted that the executive was actually “a composite of many, many [label] people.” That being said, Queen really did face opposition to putting out “Bohemian Rhapsody.” In particular, label head Roy Featherstone reportedly dismissed the almost six-minute classic as being too lengthy for a single release.
11. Mercury didn’t meet Jim Hutton at one of his parties
As Mercury’s partner for six years, Jim Hutton played a pivotal role in the rock star’s life. It comes as no surprise, then, that Bohemian Rhapsody pays special attention to the pair’s first encounter. On-screen, Hutton (Aaron McCusker) is shown waiting tables at one of Mercury’s parties. After rebuffing the singer’s drunken advances, Hutton shares a meaningful heart-to-heart with his employer. Moved by this encounter, Mercury eventually tracks Hutton down years later.
As depicted in the film, Hutton really did turn Mercury down when they first met. But it wasn’t because the latter was too intoxicated. Rather, it was due to the fact that Hutton already had a boyfriend at the time. Hutton also never worked for Mercury prior to their initial encounter. In fact, Hutton was a hairdresser when the two met in 1985 – at the London nightclub Heaven, as opposed to one of the singer’s private functions.
10. Mercury wasn’t the only one lambasted for being late to rehearsals
There’s an old adage in music biopics that states “what goes up must come down.” And Bohemian Rhapsody follows this mantra to the very end – even if it does so at the cost of a couple of facts. As success goes to Mercury’s head, he’s shown turning up late to the group’s rehearsals. And his constant tardiness drives a wedge between him and his bandmates.
While it’s true that Mercury was late to a few Queen rehearsals, it wasn’t as big a problem as the one depicted in Bohemian Rhapsody. Moreover, the singer perhaps wasn’t even the worst offender in terms of lateness. During a chat with Absolute Radio in 2011, May recalled how he hadn’t arrived at the studio in time to record 1979’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” “By the time I got there, it was almost done,” the guitarist divulged.
9. The band didn’t write “We Will Rock You” in the 1980s
By the 1980s, Queen were filling up stadiums the world over. Buoyed by an ever-appreciative audience, the group were even inspired to write music capitalizing on their fans’ support. During the film, May – wishing to make the audience a part of the show – develops a song that live crowds can join in with. Based around a distinctive rudimentary rhythm, the idea will blossom into “We Will Rock You,” one of the band’s most famous and popular concert staples.
In fairness, Bohemian Rhapsody stays relatively true to the anthem’s writing process. As in the movie, “We Will Rock You” really was inspired by audience participation. Strangely enough, though, the classic was penned not in the 1980s, but in 1977 – before Queen’s global conquest was complete. Furthermore, it was inspired by fans singing a soccer chant at the end of one the band’s gigs instead of Queen’s own songs as suggested by the film.
8. Mercury and Paul Prenter’s relationship differed in real life
Upon its release, many critics blasted Bohemian Rhapsody for its depiction of Mercury’s sexuality. Most notably, the relationship in the film between the singer and his manager Paul Prenter came under fierce scrutiny. Portrayed by Allen Leech, the DJ seems to pressure Mercury into a romantic partnership as well as force him into a sex and drug-fueled lifestyle. After being fired in 1985, Prenter is finally shown outing Mercury on live television.
Much of the criticism directed at this on-screen pairing stems from how their roles differed in real life. In truth, Mercury was the big party animal who often called the shots in his and Prenter’s relationship. And as for the latter’s professional dismissal, the firing actually happened a year later in 1986. Moreover, the jilted lover disclosed his ex-partner’s sexual orientation to British tabloid The Sun rather to TV cameras.
7. Mercury was never deprived of friendship
It may seem hard to believe given the singer’s onstage persona, but Mercury had an introverted side. And Bohemian Rhapsody goes to some lengths to portray a man struggling to find friendly company. Certainly, this is the direction in which actor Malek decided to take his portrayal of the famed frontman. As he explained to The Irish Times in 2018, “I saw [in Mercury] a very shy and, at times, lonely human being.”
Though Mercury could be reserved at times, he was never starved of friendship. And if you need proof of that fact, check out the star’s 1985 promo for “Living on My Own,” which features many of his dearest pals in supporting roles. Nevertheless, one high-profile face was missing from the video. Weirdly enough, Mercury was apparently a friend of Princess Diana and, according to actress Cleo Rocos, the two even went to gay clubs together.
6. Queen and Reid had a more amicable split
For taking the band from humble beginnings to the top of the world, John Reid was instrumental in Queen’s success. Yet Bohemian Rhapsody also suggests that the manager left the group in acrimonious circumstances. During a limousine ride with Mercury, the impresario is shown urging the singer to ditch his bandmates for solo success. This suggestion angers Mercury so much that he kicks Reid out of the car – and out of the band’s orbit.
Thankfully, Queen and Reid’s real-life split didn’t result in the latter getting a faceful of asphalt. Moreover, it was a great deal more amicable than the one depicted on-screen. Reid in truth decided to leave the band on friendly terms when his main gig handling Elton John’s empire became too time-consuming. Curiously, the manager will be depicted on-screen twice in the space of just two years, as Reid will also be a major figure in the John biopic Rocketman, which is due for release in May 2019.
5. Mercury’s bandmates weren’t upset that he recorded a solo album
In 1985 Mercury seemingly did the unthinkable and released a solo album without the rest of his band’s involvement. Furthermore – if Bohemian Rhapsody is to be believed – he did so without their prior knowledge. In the film, following the revelation that he’s signed a $4 million solo contract, Mercury faces the wrath of his bandmates. And the rift is apparently serious enough to make the group break up.
Believe it or not, the rest of Queen actually had no problem with their singer making his own record. In fact, he wasn’t the only member – or even the first, for that matter – to do so. Before Mercury recorded his debut Mr. Bad Guy, drummer Roger Taylor had already released two solo albums of his own. Needless to say, there was no tension between the group when either member went it alone. And it certainly didn’t lead Queen to break up.
4. Mercury didn’t push Mary Austin away
While his feelings for Mary Austin may have ultimately become platonic, Mercury’s love for his ex-partner was unmatched. On-screen, though, their relationship isn’t always so rosy. After being sucked into a rock and roll lifestyle, the singer becomes estranged from the most important woman in his life. In the end, it’s only Austin’s attempts to reach out to her friend in his darkest hour that saves their relationship.
Much like Mercury’s split from Queen, the star’s alienation of Austin was completely fictional. Despite severing ties romantically, the two constantly remained close until the singer’s 1991 death, after which Austin inherited much of his estate. Certainly, the rocker wouldn’t have had it any other way. “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary,” Mercury told People in 1977. “It’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else.”
3. Queen didn’t reunite for Live Aid
Perhaps their crowning achievement, Queen’s famed performance at 1985’s Live Aid turned the group from rock royalty to musical gods. And so important is the show to the band’s legacy that Bohemian Rhapsody ends with this concert. Following years of resentment, the band members bury the hatchet and reunite in order to play the charity gig. As a result, the show is portrayed as a triumphant return to form that brings the Queen story full circle.
Often considered the greatest gig ever performed, Queen’s turn at Live Aid has truly taken on a legendary stature. Yet for all its significance, there was no against-all-odds drama behind the scenes. As opposed to the grand reunion imagined in the biopic, Live Aid was just one extra date in a tour that finished two months beforehand. As for the band splitting up, there was a brief hiatus in 1983, but nothing that could be considered a true dissolution.
2. “Fat Bottomed Girls” was written in response to punk
Possibly the most curious song in Queen’s canon, “Fat Bottomed Girls” was one of the group’s more contentious hits. With lyrics that some have interpreted as sexist, the tune led Rolling Stone’s Dave Marsh to call Queen “the first truly fascist rock band.” In addition, it also inspired Spinal Tap’s parody “Big Bottom.” Perhaps surprisingly, though, the song made it into Bohemian Rhapsody, where it’s heard being played in 1974.
If “Fat Bottomed Girls” sounds controversial, then it’s because it was probably written with controversy in mind. At the time of its release, music was dominated by a confrontational new genre – punk rock. And Queen began veering towards a harder, bawdier tone to stay relevant in a more raucous musical landscape. However, this shift in direction came a lot later than Bohemian Rhapsody let on – the track wasn’t written until 1978, in fact.
1. Mercury wasn’t diagnosed with AIDS prior to Live Aid
Queen’s performance at Live Aid is Bohemian Rhapsody’s most memorable moment. And the scene is given extra power by a shocking revelation made by Mercury prior to the show. Just before taking to the stage, in fact, the singer tells his bandmates that he has been diagnosed with AIDS. Therefore, the group’s appearance also becomes Queen’s swansong.
One of the most unsettling errors made by the film is the timing of Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis. In reality, the singer was most likely in good health during Live Aid, as he didn’t learn of his illness until 1987 – a full two years later. Moreover, it took even longer for his bandmates to learn the tragic truth, because Mercury hid his condition from them for another two years.