sat 25/11/2017

Imagine: Freddie Mercury - The Great Pretender, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Imagine: Freddie Mercury - The Great Pretender, BBC One

Imagine: Freddie Mercury - The Great Pretender, BBC One

Flamboyant frontman was better with Queen than without them

Barcelona! Freddie Mercury with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé

This film, promised Imagine's host Alan Yentob, would be "the nearest we'll get to the real Freddie Mercury, a shy man in search of love and a driven artist living behind the protection of his stage persona". Probably true, but the shyness and the protective persona, coupled with vigorous policing by the Queen organisation, meant that film-maker Rhys Thomas couldn't add a great deal to what's already known about Mercury.

This looked very much like an addendum to last year's Queen - Days of our Lives, a two-part history of the band which was inevitably dominated by Mercury, yet which also showed how much the other members contributed to the combo's vast global success. They couldn't have done it without Mercury, but at the same time Mercury would probably never have found another bunch of musicians who could give him so much freedom and support while adding copiously to the musical mix. Even the virtually invisible bassist John Deacon was capable of writing a chartbuster like "I Want to Break Free".

This film was billed as a profile of Mercury's solo career, but it had the paradoxical effect of illustrating how much more effective he was within the Queen crucible, despite periods of friction and infighting of the kind which afflict every long-running band. Mercury's enthusiasm for throwing himself into the gay club scene ("I was extremely promiscuous") at times put him at odds with his resoundingly heterosexual bandmates, who seem to have thoroughly detested Mercury's disruptive "personal manager" Paul Prenter. Guitarist Brian May could hardly bring himself to play the dance-orientated music which infatuated Freddie in the early Eighties. Despite it all, the mix of personalities somehow hung together, and their collective work with Queen looks likely to prove indestructible.

In fact, the trumpeted solo career didn't amount to a lot. A brief musical partnership with Michael Jackson (pictured above with Mercury) produced several unreleased tracks (we heard a bit of one called "There Must Be More to Life Than This", which sounded pretty good), but Freddie got fed up with Michael bringing his llama into the studio and scarpered. Thus, when Wacko released the mighty Thriller, there was no sign of Mercury on it. Mercury's 1985 solo album, Mr Bad Guy, was his attempt to strike out and establish a separate identity, but it flopped, prompting Mercury's sheepish return to the mothership (Freddie walks on the wild side, pictured below).

Much was made of his collaboration with operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé on the Barcelona album, and we were assured that it was not (as you might have concluded) a teetering, multi-layered wedding cake of preposterousness. Rather, it was portrayed as a pointer to the creative future Mercury might have explored had illness not intervened, an expression of his infatuation with ballet and opera rather than plain vanilla rock'n'roll. Queen's manager Jim Beach was tremendously excited about the recent 25th-anniversary edition of Barcelona, complete with lavish new orchestral backing tracks.

Comically, Luciano Pavarotti had a dig at Ms Caballé for her partnership with Freddie, chastising La Superba for bowdlerising classical music. Anyone remember the Three Tenors?

A musical partnership with Michael Jackson ended when Freddie got fed up with Michael bringing his llama into the studio

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters