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12th March 2024

Bob Marley: One Love review – The struggles of a musical biopic

In yet another musical biopic, One Love presents two years in the life of Bob Marley. As it attempts to tell the story of one of music’s most important figures, we take a look at how far One Love was successful
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Bob Marley: One Love review – The struggles of a musical biopic
Credit: Bob Marley: One Love @ Paramount Pictures

It seems that the ticket to creating a biopic nowadays, given their popularity, is finding an angle or a creative narrative, for example in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis which is told from the point of view of Colonel Tom Parker as opposed to Elvis Presley himself. In the case of Bob Marley: One Love, director Reinaldo Marcus Green only looks at two years of Marley’s life (1976-1978), bookended by his Smile Jamaica Concert and One Love Peace Concert. Such framing gives the film an edge which felt at times more rooted in a moment than a man.

At the start of One Love, biographical information about Marley’s life is spliced together with real clips of political unrest in 1970s Jamaica. The context of Jamaican history is an important route into a film which decided to start telling the story of its protagonist at age 31. At a time when the country struggled with violence between gangs representing its two main political parties, Marley’s music and Rastafarian religion were a symbol of hope for many Jamaicans and people around the world. One Love culminates in the now famous image of opposing leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga holding their hands together with Marley on stage – a sense of the need for peace and unity which underpins the whole film.

One Love feels cinematic, which is important in making a biopic as opposed to a more documentary style. This is largely due to the flashbacks used to depict Marley’s childhood which have been dubbed “cringe, cliche, and drippy” by The Irish Times. The flashbacks of Bob and Rita brought warmth and tenderness to the film, especially alongside small moments from the present like Rita washing Bob’s hair in the sink. The film also features visions that Bob sees, providing a window into how he views himself and his situation. These also make the biopic feel more cinematic, but do at times distract from the wider narrative.

It is, of course, also important to comment on the music in the film. Unlike recent musical biopics, such as Bohemian Rhapsody where we repeatedly see Rami Malek take to the microphone, One Love was far more sparse in having Kingsley Ben-Adir recreate Marley’s music. Whilst Ben-Adir frequently strummed an acoustic guitar, popular Marley tracks such as ‘Three Little Birds’ often only played out in the background.

Undoubtedly, the focus on the creation of tracks for the 1977 album ‘Exodus’ did allow the full Wailers cast to shine, yet it may have been nice to have a touch more musical performance in the film. For example, one of the most touching moments comes once Marley returns to Jamaica and sits down to sing ‘Redemption Song’ to his children. The scene felt like a true representation of the connective power of Marley’s music, and a powerful personal moment before the more politically charged One Love Peace Concert. The balance between the personal and political was nicely handled in One Love, but it would have potentially been more effective to portray more of Marley’s music in performance.

In fact, The Exodus Tour concert montage is one of the high points of One Love. The montage follows Marley around venues across Europe, and serves as a marker for his exponential popularity during the 1970s. The real-life Exodus Tour saw Marley play 14 concerts across eight countries, and the emotional toll this took on him whilst he struggled in the early stages of melanoma is portrayed with nuance. However, the film does occasionally run into the struggle of balancing personal drama with on-stage footage, with turbulence between Marley and his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch) seeming lacklustre in comparison to the musical moments. Marley the man was in tension with Marley the musician, a fact that almost certainly reflects the reality of being such an important figure, yet one which sometimes leaves the tone of One Love confused.

Overall, One Love provides a dramatised insight into Bob Marley and the Wailers’ musical process, which appears to be collaborative and personal rather than manufactured. The main criticism from other reviews seems to be that the film doesn’t do Bob Marley’s life justice and, while that may be true, it is a really interesting watch from the perspective of someone who knew very little about such an influential figure. From interviews, it’s apparent that Kingsley Ben-Adir put in a lot of work for the role – teaching himself how to play the guitar, taking singing lessons, and watching reams of archival footage while simultaneously filming for Barbie (2023).

One Love is much less in your face than other music biopics like Elvis or Rocketman, but that’s because Bob Marley’s life and career were much more about performing for peace than for theatrics. The story moves along nicely, with convincing performances and emotional impact, yet in a period where biopics are becoming more and more popular, One Love struggles to entirely stand out from the crowd.

3/5

Bob Marley: One Love is out now in cinemas

Imogen Mingos

Imogen Mingos

Head Fashion & Beauty Editor 2023-24 | Awarded Best Newcomer (The Mancunion) at MMG Awards 2023 | Highly Commended for Section Editor of the Year at MMG Awards 2024

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