‘Bob Marley: One Love’ biopic of an icon receives mixed reviews

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley in ‘Bob Marley: One Love’. Picture: Paramount Pictures

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley in ‘Bob Marley: One Love’. Picture: Paramount Pictures

Published Feb 14, 2024


While reggae music legend Bob Marley died over four decades, his music continues to live on as he inspires modern-day musicians.

With the icon’s music played across the globe, almost 43 years after he died from cancer in May 1981, this week is the first time that Hollywood released its major reggae biopic based on the musical legend.

“Bob Marley: One Love” released in theatres worldwide on Valentine’s Day.

And while it was not the typical love story that movie-goers might have expected on the most romantic day of the year, his fans will finally get to see the man behind the music.

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley and Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley in ‘Bob Marley: One Love’ Picture: Paramount Pictures

It stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, who previously portrayed another icon, Malcolm X, in Regina King’sOne Night in Miami”. The British actor also played one of the Kens in the “Barbie” movie, as well as making a cameo as Barack Obama, a few years ago, in the HBO drama “The Comey Rule”.

Ben-Adir said this was his biggest role to date, and that he had to conduct months of preparation before he could do the role justice.

He told “The Guardian” this included working with a music teacher for his singing in the movie, as well as trying to perfect Marley’s patois, the vernacular form of English spoken in Jamaica.

“Looking back, I may as well have been learning to play a part in French. I was building my understanding of Bob’s language from the ground up; the dialect, the flow, the intonation, the feel. Jamaican patois is deceptive.

“So much of the English language is in it, you think you know it. But it’s more confusing and complicated than that,” the actor said.

Ben-Adir also flew to Kingston in Jamaica to spend time with Marley’s family. He also consulted reggae legend’s surviving band mates and collaborators.

“Many of the people I spoke to in Jamaica were wary of me when I first sat down. And rightly so,” he said.

“Who are you coming over here to do this? Who are you?’ I would tell them: ‘If I was you, I’d feel the same. But I want to try my best to represent this properly. Listen, I’ve grown up with Jamaicans, believe me I’m not taking this lightly. I’ve agreed to do it, so I’m f****** going to try my best’.”

Reggae icon Bob Marley.

“Bob Marley: One Love” is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, whose last film, “King Richard”, bagged Will Smith an Oscar for Best Actor.

The biographical film also stars Lashana Lynch who plays Marley’s wife, Rita, as well as Michael Gandolfini, James Norton and Umi Meyers.

It is set in the aftermath of a 1976 shooting that wounded the reggae icon.

Much of the movie’s focus is also on Marley’s self-imposed exile in London, the recording of his 1977 album “Exodus”, him touring Europe and then ultimately receiving a diagnosis of cancer.

Marley’s major performance that bookends the film is his “One Love Peace Concert”, which was staged in Jamaica in 1978 as a way to heal the then divided and violent country.

“Bob Marley: One Love” also shows how the turmoil in his native country weighed heavily on the musician throughout the film, as images of fields set alight run repeatedly as a reflection of his memories.

While the flick follows Marley in Europe, it does depict him being consumed with the plight of his countrymen and others in similar situations around the world.

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley and Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley in ‘Bob Marley: One Love’. Picture: Paramount Pictures

Portraying the reggae legend’s epic life journey in a biographical film is a huge undertaking in itself but the movie has been widely criticised for not putting enough focus on crucial elements of his eventful 36-year existence.

Filmmakers have been lambasted for rarely showing Marley alone in “Bob Marley: One Love” yet they argue that other individuals come through vividly.

Questions are also being asked about why the Wailers, the Jamaican band which featured musicians Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer before Marley ventured into a solo career, were rarely depicted in the movie.

Many elements of the larger-than-life of all reggae superstars' lives are not adequately shown in the biopic.

Instead, the movie limits itself to just the period of 1976-1978 and shows very little of how Marley rose to fame in Jamaica and fought against poverty and trauma in his childhood.

Another large aspect of “Bob Marley: One Love”, which has been criticised, is what critics consider the lacklustre music performances throughout the film.

Overall, many feel that it failed to properly portray Marley as the multi-faceted man that he was.

He is renowned as a political militant, utopian pop idol, a religious and family man and a devout Rastafarian.

Many argue that if you were watching the movie and knew nothing about Marley, you wouldn’t learn enough about the musical icon from the biopic.

∎ “Bob Marley: One Love” is showing at cinemas nationwide.