Bohemian Rhapsody | 2018
In the great tradition of Hollywood biopics, this celebration of the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) doesn’t let such mundane concerns as facts or chronology to get in the way of a good showbiz story.
I can’t help feeling Freddie would have wanted nothing less.
The opening, and the last ecstatic fifteen minutes feature a thrilling reconstruction of Queen’s show-stealing performance at Live Aid in 1985.
Live Aid’s legendary UK concert was held at the old Wembley Stadium, Wembley, North London, with its instantly recognisable twin towers, which had been the grand old home of the FA Cup Final since 1923.
Wembley’s facilities could no longer keep up with the demands of modern football and, despite its fame and a storm of protest, the landmark building was demolished in 2002. A brand new football stadium now stands on the site.
The production needed a suitably empty location large enough to build part of the stadium as it looked in 1985, an 18-feet-high stage, the giant scaffolding towers, all the posters and the large-scale banners, three stories in height, that flanked the stage. The rest was extended with CGI.
The final choice was Bovingdon Airfield, southwest of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire which boasts a half-mile long concrete runway smooth enough to build on.
Apart from the recreation of part of the stadium as it looked in 1985, the giant scaffolding towers, all the posters and the large-scale banners, some three stories in height, that adorn the sides of the stage, had to be recreated – with CGI extending the whole site.
An RAF base since 1941, Bovingdon was used in the filming of 633 Squadron, Battle of Britain and Mosquito Squadron in the 1960s, but was eventually closed down by the Ministry of Defence in 1972.
Freddie, born Farrokh Bulsara, emigrated from with his family from Zanzibar, in 1964. The current owner of the house that the Bulsaras moved into in Feltham, West London, was happy to allow filming, but constant noise from jets coming and going at nearby Heathrow Airport provided too much of a problem.
Eventually, the interior was recreated on a soundstage but the briefly glimpsed exterior is 52 Malyons Road, Ladywell, Lewisham, South London.
The band’s early gigs at ‘Ealing Art College’, where Freddie was a student, were filmed in the old Town Hall, Tweedy Road, Bromley, Southeast London. No longer in use, it’s currently being redeveloped into a hotel.
Another town hall, Hornsey Town Hall, a 1930s art deco gem in Crouch Hill, North London, provided several locations. It stands in for the old Biba department store where Freddie pursues Mary (Lucy Boynton) and gets kitted out in the Ladies’ Department.
The real Biba occupied the old Derry & Toms Department store on High Street Kensington at Derry Street, West London, for a brief glorious period from 1973 to 1975.
A grandiose, one-off folly launched on the back of fashion designer Barbara Hulanicki’s modest clothes store, it ambitiously aimed to recreate the fabulous glamour of 1930s Manhattan, reimagined in the style of a Hollywood movie set.
Sofas, mirror and peacock feathers abounded, alongside gleaming gold elevators (not lifts, obviously), staffed by smartly-uniformed operators.
Reality caught up and the extravagance proved all too much. The building now houses nothing more than a branch of Marks & Spencers and a few other retails stores. The Rainbow Room has been painted sterile white to become a fitness centre.
It’s easy to see why the place would have appealed to the young Bulsara who briefly ran a vintage clothes stall in the old Kensington Market nearby.
For a glimpse of its brief heyday, see MessyNessyChic’s feature.
Hornsey Town Hall also provided the 'EMI Records' office where the band continually crosses swords with exec Ray Foster (an unrecognizable Mike Myers – hence the ‘kids in cars headbanging’ in-joke).
Like Bromley, this town hall is also no longer used. In front of its entrance you can see the circular fountain visible from Foster’s office as the boys throw a projectile through his window.
The riverside pub, at which the band meets prospective manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen) on the waterfront terrace, is the Rutland Arms, 15 Lower Mall, Hammersmith, West London, with the grand towers of Hammersmith Bridge in the background.
Most of the film’s interior sets were built in the Gillette Building, 101 Syon Lane, Brentford, West London, part of the ‘Golden Mile’ of striking 30s industrial buildings. The Gillette is an art deco landmark and Grade II-listed, now used as film production space since the Gillette company moved out a few years ago.
The interior sets included the Bulsara family home, the capital Radio studio (where Kenny Everett becomes the first DJ to air the full six-minute Bohemian Rhapsody single, the Top of the Pops studio after the record confounds all expectations, and even Freddie’s ‘Rio de Janeiro’ hotel room.
Bohemian Rhapsody, the classic track which gives the film its title, was in fact recorded in two places, Rockfield Farm, near Monmouth in South Wales, and Ridge Farm, Sussex, which provided the isolation and solitude that the band required. To keep the narrative simple, the two are amalgamated into one for the film.
Ridge Farm closed in 2003 and though Rockfield Studios is still used, it wasn't suitable for filming.
The movie uses Stockers Farm House, with those picturesque barns and granaries, part of Stocker Lock Cottage canalside property southwest of Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire.
Freddie Mercury's famous Kensington home, Garden Lodge, also needed a screen double.
Numerous fans still regularly visit the site so, understandably, it’s fiercely private behind a brick wall. For the film, a large private home on Ashcombe Avenue in Surbiton in Kingston-upon-Thames, Southwest London, was used.
By the way, the Shere House car park on Trinity Street in Southwark stood in for Garden Lodge’s backyard.
When guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) gets everyone to stomp their feet on the drum riser in the studio to convey his concept for an audience participation number, the scene segues into the epic performance of We Will Rock You at ‘New York’s Madison Square Gardens’.
Of course, it’s no such thing. The legendary ‘New York’ venue was recreated at LH2 Studios on Concord Road, Park Royal in, yes, West London. The purpose-built rehearsal and production space was redressed and re-lit for several other of the big scale gigs.
It’s in ‘New York’ that the manipulative Paul (Allen Leech) – a composite of several people – throws John Reid under the bus, almost literally, when he encourages Freddie to sack the manager and dump him unceremoniously from the limo.
The ’New York’ street, onto which Reid is thrown is Union Street, Southwark, South London, outside the Print Rooms, 164-180 Union Street, SE1.
When Freddie moves to Munich to record his solo album, there’s a brief establishing shot of the twin spires of Frauenkirche, Frauenplatz 12, but that’s all the real Germany there is.
The clinic, where Freddie receives, for those days, a dreaded diagnosis, is once again Bromley Town Hall.
And here is where the film really parts company with reality to build the emotional climax, as the contrite Freddie returns to London to try and reconnect with the band and perform at Live Aid.
As you might have guessed, it’s a former church which was developed into one of the country’s most prestigious recording studios by the Beatles’ legendary producer George Martin.
Lyndhurst is far more heard in movies than seen. Apart from album recordings, check the music credits for some of the biggest movies of the last few years to see just how important the studio is: Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, Beauty and the Beast, Kong: Skull Island, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Transformers, The Hobbit movies, The Hunger Games movies, the Twilight movies, The Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, the Harry Potter movies, Les Misérables, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Inception and many, many others.
Although it wasn’t converted into a studio until 1992 (seven years after the scene takes place), it’s good to see this unsung treasure get its own moment on-screen for once.
And one last location, that pub where the boisterous drinkers watch Live Aid on TV, is the Griffin, Brook Road South, Brentford, which was previously seen in cult football hooligan movie Green Street.