Review of One Love by Bob Marley: A reverent biopic about the struggles of a reggae superstar to ignite passion.

Estimated read time 3 min read


This slow and serious portrayal of reggae icon Bob Marley is as authorized and numbed as it gets. A film about Marley’s remarkable rise to fame, his musical brilliance, and his inspiring self-discipline (though lacking in humility) could have been great or at least good. It could have also delved into his poignant sacrifice as he pushed himself relentlessly through illness to organize a historic concert for peace and unity in Jamaica in 1978.

This is a respectful movie in the style of Hallmark Channel, created in collaboration with the family – almost every relative has an associate producer credit. It also has all the rights to the music. The popular songs are included, which is always a positive aspect. There are also moments when the film comes to life in a lively, non-religious way: it’s particularly powerful when the young members of The Wailers (Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and others) gather in a chaotic studio in Kingston in 1963 and passionately perform “Simmer Down,” a song that Marley continued to develop throughout his life, urging listeners to reject violence. However, overall, this film is tense and overly reverential.

That estimable performer Kingsley Ben-Adir is not especially well cast or directed as Marley himself, who at the height of his mid-70s celebrity finds himself in the middle of a gang war in Jamaica and survives an attempted murder in his family home; it’s the most boring attempt at a killing that I’ve ever seen on screen. It’s as if the movie is already looking forward to Marley’s imagined saintly forgiveness for his would-be killer. Punches are pulled.

Marley needs to escape from harm for a brief period of time, so he ends up in his home country: the rainy and prejudiced Britain. Despite the irony of this situation, Marley enjoys playing soccer in the park and is very welcoming to his fans, even more so than other famous musicians. It is during this time that Marley and the Wailers create their iconic album Exodus and perform a memorable concert at the Rainbow theatre in London’s Finsbury Park in 1977.

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Lashana Lynch’s portrayal of Rita, Marley’s wife, exudes dignity and self-control. The film briefly touches on Bob’s extramarital affairs and children, although it is swiftly brushed aside as if insignificant. (The film also fails to mention Marley’s opposition to the homophobia prevalent in Jamaica.) There are typical scenes of Marley in the recording studio and in the uptight offices of Island Records, where Michael Gandolfini plays an American executive who struggles to understand Marley’s music. James Norton plays Chris Blackwell, the head of Island Records, in a flat and one-dimensional manner.

Some flashbacks show Marley’s boyhood – cursory and uninspired scenes – and the mystery of his absent white father is redeemed by Bob’s commitment to Rastafarianism. And so we get to what in Christian terms would be his Palm Sunday return to Jamaica, though the great concert itself is not dramatised directly. This is a vacuum-sealed package of fan-orthodoxy that never takes off. The euphoria and uplift aren’t there.


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