Music biopics can be a tricky business, riddled with casting and tone issues. Get it right, and you've got a film as critically and commercially successful as Walk The Line, in which Joaquin Pheonix played Johnny Cash opposite Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. But, as Zoe Saldana discovered after taking on Nina Simone for Nina last year, the results can be genuinely offensive if it all goes horribly wrong.
Perhaps this is why Bohemian Rhapsody, a film that aims to retell 15 years of Freddie Mercury's life through the prism of his rise to fame with Queen, has been one of the most catastrophic cinematic ventures of the decade. Since 2008, it has suffered from two changes in writer, three different lead actors and two disbanded directors – most recently, X Men director Bryan Singer, who was fired from the production in December.
Here's the rocky trajectory of Bohemian Rhapsody so far:
Talks begin between Queen guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and The Queen screenwriter Peter Morgan. Sacha Baron Cohen, known for his portrayals of comedy characters Borat and Ali G, is also involved, with a view to playing Mercury himself.
September 17:May tells the BBC that the project is going ahead. Graham King will executive produce, and Morgan will write. Baron Cohen has landed the role of Mercury, which May admits "will probably be a shock to a lot of people". The biopic's focus is on the period leading up to Queen's legendary Live Aid set at Wembley Stadium in 1985. Filming is set to begin in 2011.
October:Morgan tells Cinemablend that Baron Cohen is one of the main facilitators behind the project – the actor rang up the writer and asked him to take on the script. Morgan adds that he was unsure how Mercury's surviving band mates would handle what he had in mind: "I'm not sure how much they'll like what I write. I think they'll recognise the truth in it, but it's a series of painful memories for them. I'm essentially writing about the most painful time in the band's history."
April 27:Baron Cohen is raring to go but May and, to a greater extent, the rest of Queen, have reservations about what the film will do to Mercury's legacy. May told Scottish paper The Daily Record: "We have resisted making this film for a long time and it is only now we feel we have the right people that we have given it the OK." So far, no filming.
November 22: Executive producer King confirms to Cinemablend that he's still keen to go ahead with Baron Cohen as Mercury. Although he does add: "You never know [if a film will actually come together] until it's done". King wouldn't confirm if Morgan's script was still being used, but told the movie website that filming would begin "next year".
March 15:Deadline reports that director Tom Hooper is being eyed up for the biopic, although adds that there is "no formal offer at the moment".
May 14: Cornered on the red carpet, May says things are "full steam ahead" on the biopic.
June 28: Katy Perry denies being lined up to play Mercury's girlfriend in the film.
October 12:May gives an update on his blog from a recent "Queen meeting" between him, Taylor and long-term band manager Jim Beech. He writes that the "Freddie film" is "on course", and then elaborated:
Much of our discussion was about contractual things … it's pretty complex …. and determining who is responsible for what. The pieces are all falling into place, though we are now on a slightly later schedule – filming is now scheduled to start in the Spring , with Sacha Baron Cohen playing Freddie. The film should be ready for release early in 2014.
June 22: Baron Cohen pulls out of the film. Deadline reports: "The reason is that the band wanted to make more of a PG movie about Queen while Cohen was counting on a gritty R-rated tell-all centered around the gifted gay singer."
September 1: Morgan claims the film is unlikely to go forward without Baron Cohen:
Freddie Mercury biopic writer Peter Morgan has told the BBC the film is "probably not going to happen" now Sacha Baron Cohen has pulled out.— BBC Entertainment (@BBCNewsEnts) September 1, 2013
September 26:Taylor tells Mojo that Queen feared Baron Cohen would make the biopic a "joke": "We felt Sacha probably wasn’t right in the end. We didn’t want it to be a joke. We want people to be moved."
October 6: Dominic Cooper is tied to the project as Baron Cohen's replacement, according to Latino Review.
October 20: May told Ultimate Classic Rock magazine that the band had decided that Cohen, who had recently racked up roles in Hugo and Les Miserables, would be too much of a distraction to play Mercury: "And we thought there has to be no distraction in the Freddie movie. You have to really suspend that disbelief – the man who plays Freddie, you have to really believe is Freddie. And we didn’t that could really happen with Sacha."
Meanwhile, Taylor appeared on The One Show and told host Alex Jones the band were hoping that Ben Whishaw would fill Baron Cohen's shoes.
December 10: Whishaw is confirmed to play Mercury, with Dexter Fletcher directing.
March 13: Fletcher leaves the project. Deadline reports that the Sunshine on Leith director "didn’t see eye to eye on what will be an R-rated pic about Mercury" with King. Whishaw is still in place as Mercury.
August 6:Ben Whishaw tells Time Out that production has stalled: "I don’t know what’s happening, it seems to be on a back burner. It was going, then there were problems getting the script working."
March 29: May is forced to post a statement on his blog clarifying that Baron Cohen is not returning to the project after Beech joked as much in an awards acceptance speech a few days before. May wrote:
[There was] a small joke that Jim threw in during his acceptance speech. He said that, in response to [inquiries] about the progress on the Freddie feature film, that Sacha Baron Cohen had been re-engaged to write, produce, and direct the film, as well as starring in all four major roles! I’m afraid some folks might have taken it seriously!
November 18: The ball begins to roll again. Theory of Everything writer Anthony McCarten is hired to take on the script, and a title – Bohemian Rhapsody – is considered. Deadline, who broke the news, claims that the team were "still sweet" on Whishaw, although there is apparently no deal with the Bond actor.
March 9: Baron Cohen tells his side of the story, claiming that he pulled out of the film because of the band's fascination with involving themselves in a film about Mercury. He told Howard Stern:
A member of the band – I won’t say who – said: 'You know, this is such a great movie because it’s got such an amazing thing that happens in the middle.'
'What happens in the middle of the movie?' He goes: 'You know, Freddie dies.' ... I go: 'What happens in the second half of the movie?' He goes: 'We see how the band carries on from strength to strength.'
I said: 'Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from Aids and then you see how the band carries on.'
April 10: May does not take lightly to Baron Cohen's assessment, telling the Mail on Sunday: "Sacha became an arse,. We had some nice times with Sacha kicking around ideas, but he went off and told untruths about what happened".
November 4: Spats aside, the film's development continues to trundle on, with Deadline reporting that King had put it on fast track. Bryan Singer, director of the X Men films, is in talks to direct while Rami Malek, Emmy-winning star of Mr Robot, is being lined up for Mercury's role. Shooting is set to begin in 2017.
January 12:Malek announces on the Golden Globes red carpet that he will sing as Mercury.
April 13: May promises The Daily Star that Bohemian Rhapsody will arrive "sooner than you might think, next year".
May 8: Adam Lambert, who sings with Queen, told NME that he has been sharing his thoughts with Singer, who is "so excited" about the film: "I got the chance to chitchat about the band, his experience as a fan of the band, and my experience as sort of a guest member over some beers. Brian is so incredible as a director and so passionate about this project."
May 9: Malek talks more about the role on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, saying that he witnessed May and Taylor watching his audition tape first-hand.
August 21: The actors for the rest of Queen are confirmed: Ben Hardy is to play Taylor, Gwilym Lee lands the role of May and bassist John Deacon will be played by Joseph Mazzello. The writer is now announced as Justin Haythe, known for Revolutionary Road. It is unclear when this transition happened. The film is given a release date: Christmas Day 2018 in the US, with a UK release on December 28, 2018.
August 30: Allen Leech is cast as Paul Prenter, Mercury's personal assistant who betrayed him by sharing his Aids diagnosis to the press, Deadline reports.
September 6: Entertainment Weekly shares the first official image of Malek as Mercury:
September: Filming begins. A replica of Wembley Stadium's 1985 stage was recreated and set up in an airfield outside Hemel Hempstead. Fan footage of Malek singing as Mercury emerges online.
September 22: Aaron McCusker is cast as Jim Hutton, Mercury's boyfriend, according to Deadline.
September 26: Deadline reports that Aiden Gillen and Tom Hollander are both cast as Queen managers – Gillen will take the role of John Reid, who managed the band from 1975 to 1978, while Hollander will play Jim Beach who took over as manager from Reid.
December 1: Production is halted. Various explanations follow: The Hollywood Reporter quote a statement given by Fox, which reads:
Twentieth Century Fox Film has temporarily halted production on Bohemian Rhapsody due to the unexpected unavailability of Bryan Singer.
The industry paper goes on to report that Singer had not returned to the set after Thanksgiving, "leaving producers nervous about the state of the production and talking about potentially replacing him." It also claims that "producers and his star had grown tired of Singer's behavior, which saw him routinely show up late to set."
The BBC, however, reports that Singer's illness is to blame for the halt, citing: "a personal health matter concerning Bryan and his family. Bryan hopes to get back to work on the film soon after the holidays."
December 4:Fox releases a statement saying that “Bryan Singer is no longer the director of Bohemian Rhapsody." The director claims the studio refused to give him leave from the production to care for a sick family member. Singer's statement read:
With fewer than three weeks to shoot remaining, I asked Fox for some time off so I could return to the US to deal with pressing health matters concerning one of my parents. This was a very taxing experience, which ultimately took a serious toll on my own health. Unfortunately, the studio was unwilling to accommodate me and terminated my services. This was not my decision and it was beyond my control.
Rumours that my unexpected departure from the film was sparked by a dispute I had with Rami Malek are not true. While, at times, we did have creative differences on set, Rami and I successfully put those differences behind us and continued to work on the film together until just prior to Thanksgiving. I wanted nothing more than to be able to finish this project and help honor the legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen, but Fox would not permit me to do so because I needed to temporarily put my health, and the health of my loved ones, first.
December 7: Despite having previously walked away from the project in 2014, Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher is announced to be replacing Singer as the director of Bohemian Rhapsody.
According to Deadline, he will direct the remaining two weeks of shooting and orchestrate the film's post-production work, which may involve further reshoots.
March 27: The release date moves yet again – but this time, not backwards! Bohemian Rhapsody is given a release date of November 2, 2018, moving forward from the original date of December 25, 2018.
May 16: The trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody finally arrives. Shortly after, the film is criticised for glossing over Mercury's sexuality. Bryan Fuller, the producer and writer of American Gods and Star Trek: Discovery, tweeted:
ANYONE ELSE MILDLY ANNOYED (enough to tweet about it) THAT THE #BohemianRapsody TRAILER FEATURES GAY/BI SUPERSTAR FREDDIE MERCURY FLIRTING WITH AND TWIRLING WITH A WOMAN BUT NO INDICATION OF HIS LOVE OF MEN?— Bryan Fuller (@BryanFuller) May 15, 2018
September: Malek addresses his character's sexuality in an interview with Attitude magazine: “It’s a shame that people are making remarks after a minute teaser where you just wanna see the music. It’s difficult,” said Malek. “First, let me say that I don’t think the film shies away from his sexuality or his all-consuming disease, which is obviously AIDS. I don’t know how you could avoid any of that, or if anyone would ever want to. It’s a bit absurd that anyone’s judging this from a minute trailer.”
October 21: Rami Malek speaks about Singer's removal from the set during a flurry pf pre-release interviews: "It was a tumultuous set there is no doubt about it, and it came to a place where there was a lapse in time when our director was not present and we needed to find a new director, and I think that says it all.
Meanwhile, stories emerge that reshoots took place due to upset on the behalf of Chrissie Mullen, Brian May's first wife who was originally portrayed in Bohemian Rhapsody. "Chrissie wasn’t happy with how she was portrayed while on tour in the band’s early days," a source told the Daily Mail. "Brian took the decision that the best way to keep everyone happy was just not to have her in it. But it delayed the filming again."