In 1969, the streets of London were crammed with Morris Minors, baby boomers nursed their teenage angst with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the place to shop was Biba, a mail-order department store credited with bringing fashion to the British high street. Just like the miniskirt and King’s Road, Biba was interwoven into London’s social fabric and became a favoured hangout of Jagger, McCartney and Bowie. Nineteen-year-old Mary Austin worked there in public relations, and this same year, she met Freddie Mercury. From this moment, she would be the steady, good-girl subplot in a rock-star tale – and immortalised in film 50 years later by rising star Lucy Boynton.
“Biba was where Freddie and Mary first found their connection, in that changing room,” Boynton tells GRAZIA. “I’d heard a lot about Biba, their reputation. My mum raved about it to me – about the specific cut of the dresses, which was so iconic. There was such an appreciation of the fabrics, colours and textures. These days everything is about immediacy and convenience, while back then, there was more time to appreciate your surroundings. Obviously, I don’t have a memory of that place, but it feels somewhat suspended in time. The fact that Freddie starts to find more of his style at Biba is perfect. It was a case of anything goes inside those walls. “To enter that world in a film was amazing,” Boynton continues. “I love that purple coat in [Mary’s] introduction. You put something like that on and you adopt a different kind of confidence and sense of self. It was such a statement piece.”
Bohemian Rhapsody – a Bryan Singer/Dexter Fletcher-directed biopic about Queen’s electrifying frontman Freddie – shone a light on the fashion label that helped define the swinging ’60s. It also sent Boynton’s star into the same galaxy The Wolf Of Wall Street sent Margot Robbie, I think they call it “actresses tapped by Chanel”. And in a classic case of life imitating art, the 25-year-old actress behind Mary fell for her on-screen lover, Oscar winner Rami Malek who played Freddie, in real life.
“One of the biggest takeaways from watching Rami on set was how much of a leader he was,” says Boynton.
“I have never really seen it to that extent where he has this huge feat to play that person and yet is consistently cognisant of everyone else’s experience. He is very nurturing and wants everyone to be having a good time as he is. It was only when all of the cast got to hang out more (and since I got to know everyone as very much themselves, departed from the film) only then do you see how different [Rami] is from [Freddie] and from that world. On set there was always just this Freddie energy. It was always that Freddie electricity. Remarkable.”
There’s this beautiful feature Boynton’s journalist, Biba-loving mother wrote for the UK Telegraph in 2006. Titled “My Lucy, The Film Star”, Adriaane Pielou recalls her effusively enthusiastic 11-year-old daughter’s audition to play a young Renée Zellweger in the film Miss Potter. Plucked from a school drama class, Boynton had the film’s Australian director Chris Noonan in tears during her casting, and as mother and daughter enjoyed a hot chocolate at a West London café just an hour afterwards, Pielou received the call. “Congratulations,” the casting agent said. “Everyone loves Lucy. She’s got the part.” If you haven’t read Pielou’s piece, I suggest you google and bookmark it. It’s interesting to read how she watched her daughter go from “just another girl in 7C” at school to interviews with fellow journalists at the film’s world premiere in Leicester Square. “Not for the first time, I felt a frisson of fear,” writes Pielou. “It is slightly alarming, hearing a stranger pronounce on your child; a feeling that she is, in a very small way, public property… What will it turn out to be in the long run? A wonderful one-off that earned her several thousand pounds? The start of a serious career? Too much, too soon?”
The answer to that third question is yes. After sharing the titular role with Zellweger, Boynton landed a more substantial role in 2007’s Ballet Shoes alongside Emma Watson before playing Margaret Dashwood in a 2008 miniseries adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. After taking a break to focus on school, Boynton appeared in a couple of horror films and then played a model in John Carney’s coming-of-age musical Sing Street. She was then on board for the filming of 2017’s Murder On The Orient Express, where she portrayed Countess Elena Andrenyi, a character that Boynton made feel true to the genteel time the film was written. Her next role will be in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix comedy series The Politician, out this year.
But nothing said breakout star quite like Boynton’s Mary Austin portrayal. Speaking of Freddie and Mary’s relationship, the actress references old interviews. “Freddie talks about how Mary was the only person he really trusted in the world, and when he was going through something, he turned to Mary or he would deal with it himself. The kind of connection that they found very early on was based on this clarity with which they saw one another, which was so rare. The way [Queen band member] Brian May described it was that these two quite shy people brought out this energy and light in one another and that was a unique thing to witness.”
And in both love stories, it started with the Biba purple coat.
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