Queen enjoyed a long and generally glorious rock career, yet they were perhaps at the peak in 1986 when this digitally re-mastered footage of their Budapest Concert was filmed.
With their acclaimed 1985 Live Aid performance just behind them, 1986 saw the band’s perhaps slightly excessive musical contribution to the Christopher Lambert/Sean Connery sci-fi romp Highlander a film set in a world where decapitation is apparently commonplace and no other music than Queen’s appears to exist. The year also saw the band do their bit to end the Cold War. While Rocky Marciano beat up Dolph Lundgren and Superman fought off Nuclear Man, in the real world Queen ventured behind the Iron Curtain to play before 80,000 fans in Budapest, then in the Eastern Bloc (the ominously large red bit which then dominated a large section of the world map).
Of course, nobody’s claiming Queen were trying to bring down the USSR with this gig, least of all the band themselves. But it’s undeniably a cracking show, with most of the band’s big hits making an appearance, notably: A Kind of Magic (used famously in the aforementioned Highlander), I Want To Break Free, We Are The Champions, a David Bowie free version of Under Pressure, We Will Rock You, Bohemian Rhapsody and Who Wants To Live Forever?.
This last song is given added poignancy, of course, by our knowledge that the hugely charismatic and apparently healthy Freddie Mercury, in fact had only five years left before his death from AIDS. In fact, the most surprising thing is just how much more at ease Mercury was on the stage than anywhere else. In interviews, he comes across as quite posh and geeky, although not actually particularly camp. One wonders to what degree Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s scheduled to play him in the forthcoming Mercury, will be able to capture the essence of the man. It’s odd and sad to reflect that Mercury was probably already HIV Positive when this was filmed.
The film could be smoother. Although there are some nice shots of Budapest in the scenes linking the songs, much of it is quite awkward, in particular some shots of Brian May posing reluctantly with US tourists. May also contributes some frankly appalling self indulgent masturbatory guitar solos during Freddie’s costume changes.
But overall this is a fitting tribute to both Mercury and the band and a worthy reminder of the days when Queen really did rule the waves.
Overall Verdict: They were the champions: a reminder of just how good Queen were and also of why no heterosexual men in Britain felt able to wear a moustache after about 1990.
Reviewer: Chris Hallam