Directed by Kevin Macdonald 15A cert, limited release, 145 min
ROBERT NESTA Marley was born in the raggedy village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica to a teenage Afro-Jamaican mother and an English father whom the family rarely saw afterwards. Locals recall the young Marley as a “red pickney” who was frequently bullied on account of his mixed heritage.
Eventually his mother Cedella had enough and relocated to Kingston, where Bob was exposed to ska and Rastafarianism. Ideas of Pan-African identity would become integral to Marley’s lyrics, as would the screwy, wrongly placed downbeat that would lead from ska to reggae.
Bob married Rita in 1966 and she stayed on as his wife and backing singer until his death in 1981. Marley wasn’t faithful – he sired 11 children from seven different relationships. And yet few of his fellow-musicians and surviving family members have a bad word to say about him. His children describe him as needlessly competitive yet laugh it off. His wife and mistress (the former Miss World 1976, Cindy Breakspeare) were happy to join forces at Bob’s deathbed.
These women, like most of the interviewees captured on camera in Marley, are determined to print the legend and ensure that the seminal musician is remembered as just that.
Kevin Macdonald’s solid, informative, respectful bio-doc is not quite the dazzling, innovative non-fiction we might have expected from the Oscar-winning director of Touching the Void. There’s nothing about the presentation of Marley that might deter surviving family and friends from providing testimony. It wouldn’t look out of place on a BBC4 special.
But Macdonald (who took over the reigns when Martin Scorsese found himself otherwise occupied) is an astute documentarian. And while he can’t supply definitive answers, he can sure leave questions hanging. Did impresario Chris Blackwell rip off artists such as he Wailers? How did Rita Marley shrug off all those other women? Did Bob’s Rastafarian doctors drop the ball on the cancer that killed him?
Fascinating archive footage, including unseen shots of the 1978 One Love Peace concert performance of Jammin, during which Bob joined the hands of political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, ought to place Marley, the film, on the school curriculum. But hang on. Cert 15A? For soft drug use? Even when it’s clearly contextualised as religious practise? We’ll have whatever they’re smoking over at IFCO, thanks.