21 Feb 2024

Review: Bob Marley: One Love

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 21 February 2024

Fictional biographies of well-known entertainers have their work cut out for them.  Not only are these people famous because they’re pretty much impossible to imitate convincingly, the expectations for a film about, say, reggae star Bob Marley is almost impossibly high.

The reaction, inevitably, is “That’s not Bob”.

This despite the fact that the three leads are the reputable Kingsley Ben-Adir as Marley, Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley and James Norton as Island Records boss Chris Blackwell…

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley.

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley. Photo: Screenshot

Authenticity goes further in Bob Marley: One Love. Musicians like Junior Marvin, Bunny Livingston and Family Man Barrett are actually played by their sons.   

In addition, a lot of effort went into the distinctive Jamaican patois spoken by just about everyone in the film.   

It’s to the credit of the performers – and perhaps of us too – that we manage to keep up despite the lack of subtitles.

One Love avoids another common mistake in this sort of biopic – trying to cram a whole life into one short movie.  

This film covers a relatively short period, opening when Marley is well-established at home and just breaking out in Europe and America.

Jamaica is in the throes of fierce political unrest, following independence. There are two main political parties, each supported by a violent gang.  

Murders in the streets of Jamaica are common, and the only thing the two sides agree on is their love of Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Marley is being pressured to put on a concert that will somehow bring about peace overnight.  

He reluctantly agrees to do it but then, shortly before the concert, armed gunmen break into the Marley compound.

Miraculously, no-one is killed but it’s clear Marley, his family and his band have to get out. They take off to London, where they record a new album Exodus.

This is a key point in Marley’s life. Exodus became not only his most famous album, but according to Time magazine, the greatest album of the 20th Century.   

It’s easier to tell this story in a documentary. Once you start handing out the exposition in dramatic form it inevitably clunks at times.

No reflection on the writers or director Reinaldo Marcus Green who made the Oscar-nominated King Richard.  

But Richard Williams was a tennis coach. He wasn’t in our living room year after year singing some of the greatest songs in reggae.  

It’s a hard barrier to get past, particularly reciting dialogue under the critical eye of Bob Marley’s family.

Bob Marley: One Love was produced by widow Rita Marley and three of his children.  

It was always unlikely that many warts would appear on the face of the movie, let alone that of star Kingsley Ben-Adir, whose last role was as one of the Kens in the squeaky-clean Barbie.

Marley experts agree most of the facts in the film are pretty much true, and yet they find One Love strangely lifeless, considering the subject matter.  

But is it so strange? 

With this cast and crew, it was never going to be a mere vanity project. Ben-Adir is terrific, on stage and off, and of course the music is wonderful.  

But if you want a better idea of the true story, I suggest you seek out clips of the man himself. Who better to tell the story of Bob Marley than Bob Marley?

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to At The Movies

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)