When Freddie Mercury took the stage with his band at Live Aid in 1985, it felt like the summit of that era-defining rock concert. A year later, Queen sold out Wembley themselves and then played to a reported 130,000 at Knebworth, their music increasingly the soundtrack of the 80s. But leaving the gigs exhausted, Freddie told his bandmates he didn’t think he could do them anymore. It was a bombshell, from someone who lived to perform. “That’s when we knew something was wrong”, says Brian May. James Rogan’s film covers his final years, described with profound affection and force by the remaining members of Queen, and by those who experienced both AIDS and Queen as fans at the time. It is “a wonderful tribute”, writes Anita Singh in The Telegraph, the “jewel” of a trilogy of BBC tributes to the singer, broadcast 30 years to the week after his death from an AIDS-related illness.
If we think we have it rough with the Covid pandemic, the film offers perspective, with a disease that spread rapidly across the world, killing most of the people infected. It affected particularly the gay community, who were already living under endemic prejudice. It wasn’t until the Hollywood star Rock Hudson succumbed to the disease that perceptions started to change. As Freddie’s health deteriorated, he continued to record and perform, but didn’t feel he could announce his diagnosis until 24 hours before his death. The music world, artists and fans, were in shock. The press continued to snipe and blame the gay community. The band decided to speak out. And with what a voice.
Roger Taylor phoned Elton John, who phoned David Bowie, who phoned Liza Minelli… And on 20 April 1992, Wembley was packed out to dance in tribute to Mercury and to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic. George Michael’s performance of Someone to Love, to which we learn his own story connected powerfully, was regarded by everyone present as having “truly nailed it”.
“Freddie Mercury: The Final Act not only documents the curtain call of a musical genius, but also offers a cathartic tribute to a generation of men who faced the stormfront of Aids”, writes Gary Ryan in the NME. May, Taylor and bassist John Deacon shine through as playful, big-hearted rebels. When Lisa Stansfield asks if it would be in bad taste for her to don curlers and bring a Hoover for her rendition of I Want to Break Free, Roger Taylor says “Darling, bad taste is what this band is all about!”
First shown November 2021.