How many times do we need to see a documentary on Freddie Mercury? That seemed to be the question on most critics lips as BBC1 aired 'Freddie Mercury - The Great Pretender' last night (October 16, 2012) little more than a year after their excellent Queen documentary. There is no doubting that Mercury is one of the great front man of all time, and you can never get tired of watching footage of him performing live, those great concerts at Wembley and in Rio etched into to the brain of music fans the world over.
Yet, there's only so many times Brian May and Roger Taylor can repeat their incredulity at Mercury's mental strength in the face of deteriorating physical condition. To be clear, there's absolutely no denying that Mercury's battle to the bitter end is something hugely admirable, and there's no way you can doubt May and Taylor's love and admiration for their old band mate; but they're sentiments they've uttered countless times elsewhere. Likewise, Paul Gambaccini is known as a massive Queen and Mercury fan, theire is very little he hasn't said on the band, yet there he was again, doling out the same sentiments. Interview clips of Mercury talking fly by and exhibit his cocky, self-assured personality and a lot of the time that's all you get. The documentary claims to find the contrast between his public and private persona, but we get little further knowledge about that difference apart from the - again - already well told information that he was prone to quiet and private moments.
One pleasant addition was an interview with the opera singer Montserrat Caballe, who is a relatively new voice in documentaries such as these. She revealed surprising little moments like how he stopped kissing her on the cheek after he contracted HIV, his shyness on meeting her, her revelations showing that she was one of the few collaborators Mercury met who he was totally in awe of. It was the best section of a documentary that otherwise ploughed over all-too-familiar ground. There is no doubting Freddie Mercury's legend, but the footage and angles that can be had on it are starting to be recycled.