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Freddie show's a Kind of Magic

It was entirely fitting that Freddie Mercury should have chosen The Platters' The Great Pretender as his first-ever solo cover. As Rhys Thomas's lovely documentary underlined, there were always two Freddies.

Publicly, there was the flamboyant, outrageous, powerhouse frontman of Queen. Privately, said Queen guitarist Brian May, there was the shy, reserved man who worried about his skin and his famously prominent teeth, yet "overcame everything to become a rock god".

The remarkable thing is that nobody had a bad word to say about either Freddie. Well, except for the vile UK tabloids, which sneeringly suggested his Aids-related death in 1991 was a kind of payback for the promiscuous life he led in the 70s and early 80s.

As broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who seems to be a permanent fixture of BBC rock-docs these days but was also a genuine friend of Mercury's, said, it was a grossly unfair attitude. It's no secret Mercury was voraciously sexually active during this period, taking to the New York City gay scene (where people gave him a privacy denied to him in Britain) like a duck to water, yet so were plenty of other people. None of them at the time could have dreamt of the awful consequences that lay in wait.

The film didn't shy away from this aspect of Mercury's life, or from his painful final days; the footage of this once-towering man ghostly white in the weeks and days before his death was heartbreakingly sad.

There were plenty of poignant moments, including a clip of Mercury, who'd had his share of being used and abused -- not least by the parasitic hanger-on Paul Prenter, who tried to steer him away from the band and later sold his story to the tabloids ("The less said about him the better," snapped drummer Roger Taylor) -- telling an interviewer: "The more I open up, the more I get hurt. I'm just riddled with scars, and basically I don't want any more."

But this was also a glowing reaffirmation of Mercury's prodigious talents: the thrilling, charismatic frontman who had the crowd at Live Aid eating out of his hand; the gifted songwriter and musician; the sharp wit and, of course, the unique voice, soaring to musical heaven in the Barcelona duet with opera star Monserrat Caballé, the project of which Mercury felt most proud.

In a film stuffed with fascinating footage, much of it rare, some never seen before, the most intriguing nugget was unreleased audio of Mercury's planned duet with Michael Jackson. It sounded promising, but the partnership didn't last long.

Long-time Queen manager Jim 'Miami' Beach recalled receiving a call from Mercury: "Michael is bringing his pet llama into the studio! I've had enough, I want to get out."

The backlash against Homeland has, inevitably, begun. "Has Homeland lost the plot?" wondered a blog on a British paper's website. No, it hasn't. But it's certainly gained extra plot this season.

Yes, there are credibility questions. Would Brody, for example, really have got away with sending a warning text to Abu Nazir while sitting in a room with the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Maybe, maybe not.

The twists and turns this week were even more fantastical. Diverted from giving a speech to a black-tie dinner for war veterans because he had to transport the tailor who made the explosive vest in season one to a safe house, Brody ended up getting a flat tyre and snapping the man's neck in the woods.

But here's the thing: it's a drama (there's a clue in that word). It's also a thriller (another clue there, spot it?). Frankly, they can give Brody the power of invisibility if they like and I'll happily suspend my disbelief from the ceiling, because when it comes to quality of writing, acting, direction and sheer, squeaky-bum, edge-of-the-seat suspense, there's nothing on TV to touch it.



FREDDIE MERCURY: THE GREAT PRETENDER -- AN IMAGINE SPECIAL HHHHH homeland HHHHH


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