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Bob Marley: One Love – Cringe, cliche and drippy flashbacks

Kingsley Ben-Adir almost wrestles his role into respectability, but the whiff of authorisation is overpowering

Bob Marley: One Love
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Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Cert: 12A
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Tosin Cole, Umi Myers, Anthony Welsh, Nia Ashi, Aston Barrett jnr, Anna-Sharé Blake
Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins

On paper, the folk behind this indifferent music flick look to be taking the correct approach. Don’t get bogged down with the full life arc so savagely satirised in the 2007 romp Walk Hard. Focus on one incident that highlights key aspects of the protagonist’s journey.

Bob Marley: One Love begins in 1976 with the eponymous musician (Kingsley Ben-Adir), then on the brink of mainstream domination, planning a concert to bring together warring forces in his native Jamaica. Fair enough. There is plenty there to chew upon.

Sadly, the much overworked script somehow manages to weave in all the cliches and compromises – not to mention the borderline hagiography – that have brought such opprobrium to the genre. Drippy flashbacks see the young Marley blubbing as his white father rides off in a pith helmet plucked from the colonial dress-up box. We have the standard “discovery” sequence in which a local producer recognises the Wailers’ potential.

Back in the film’s present, cringe goes into overdrive. A scene in which he visits a theme-park reimagining of 1977 Britain is beyond parody: stumbling out of a Clash gig into a full-on riot. Let’s not go into the, ahem, genesis of Exodus, but think of John Lennon overhearing a passerby imagining there’s no heaven and you’re halfway there. (It scarcely matters if the incident depicted actually happened.)


It is standard with such projects – remember last year’s eerily similar I Wanna Dance With Somebody, about Whitney Houston – to absolve the talented lead actor of any significant blame. Sure enough, Ben-Adir, who played Malcolm X in One Night in Miami, grasps the opportunity with eager hands and almost wrestles it into respectability.

The decision to have the actors speak in unfiltered Jamaican patois is a success. Occasional phrases will evade those of us from elsewhere, but the sense is always clear in conversations that bristle with authentic vocal energies. One only wishes what they were saying was worth heeding.

Like the Whitney film, One Love suffers greatly from a looming whiff of authorisation. Three of the six listed producers share a surname with the protagonist.

The complexities of his marriage to Rita (a strong Lashana Lynch) are summarised in one mildly heated conversation outside a Parisian club. Look elsewhere for any serious consideration of the philosophies and obligations that define Rastafarianism.

Oh, well. There is always the music. One Love does, at least, remind us how many indestructible tunes Marley delivered in such a short period. The records remain.

Bob Marley: One Love opens in cinemas on Wednesday, February 14th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist