Film Review – Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live In Budapest

Freddy Mercury is a shooting star; glorious for the short time you get to witness him in motion, but gone too soon, disappearing into darkness. Queen fans are already aware of the majesty of their leading man but newcomers will find this cinematic outing just as dazzling as the 80,000 strong crowd did in Budapest back in 1986.

Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live In Budapest begins with a short documentary that details the lead up to the Budapest concert. It features archive footage of rehearsals and recording, interviews with the band and behind the scenes access as they hit the road on tour. It is interesting stuff, though nothing new to Queen fans who know the history of the rock legends. However, some of the footage included is never before seen and reveals a group of talented, thoughtful individuals that may have come in to conflict over their musical direction, but always put the songs first. Each member of the group is given time to speak their minds with Brian May coming across typically intellectual, Freddie being the clear charismatic star and Roger Taylor and John Deacon being equally interesting and essential to this unique group.

What is obvious from the documentary is that in 1986, after Queen’s legendary performance at Live Aid the year previously, they had the world eating out of their hands and they were eager to continue recording and touring the world. Not even the Iron Curtain could hold them back. The documentary does a great job of quickly setting the scene and establishing the context that lead to this special concert. In fact, it’s all a bit too quick and the documentary could have been much longer and, like Mercury, it’s gone far too soon.

The film then shifts to digitally re-mastered high definition footage of the Budapest concert and the performance and the music are left to speak for themselves; this is why Queen are still considered one of the greatest bands in history. As the preceding documentary explains, Queen were the first Western rock band to take to a stadium stage behind the Iron Curtain. This was three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Hungarian authorities deemed the concert of such significance that it should be filmed by some of the country’s top cameramen and technicians.

The legends of rock take to the stage, with the performance skilfully filmed and edited and the camera operators clearly in awe of the stunning Freddie Mercury as he fills the stage, commanding every inch of it and gripping the audience tightly from start to finish. Many of the classic hits are included from Bohemian Rhapsody to the infinitely affecting Who Wants to Live Forever? There are some strange interludes from each of the band members enjoying some time in Hungary that jar with the concert footage, but also help to break-up the on stage performance. It is a shame these segments could not have been integrated more fluidly and perhaps have featured as part of a longer introductory documentary.

Nevertheless, for those of us too young to have ever witnessed the splendour of a Queen performance in real life, this concert looks and sounds very powerful and is a reminder that stadium concerts were once a place where the front row were literally right at the stage, not metres back due to modern safety regulations. Those wanting to see where their contemporary idols like Green Day or My Chemical Romance got their inspiration from, need look no further than the captivating performance of Freddie Mercury and the brilliant music of a band that had talent to spare, with their stage performances matching their song writing skills.

The only complaint is that as spectacular as the concert footage is, the prior documentary offers a tantalising glimpse at what could be a definitive exploration of the life and times of a legendary band. While it should be applauded for not unnecessarily dwelling on the death of Mercury, the full story of Queen will one day make a riveting documentary and still, no doubt have plenty of time to deliver some awesome on-stage action.

Hungarian Rhapsody can be seen in selected cinemas worldwide now.

[Rating: 3.5]