Bob Marley: One Love Review

Ambassador Symone Betton Nayo at the premiere of “Bob Marley: One Love” in Brussels. Credit: A.M./SWAN
  • by SWAN – Southern World Arts News (brussels)
  • Inter Press Service

It was clear from discussions after the premiere that attendees who had lived in Jamaica understood the context of the songs, and got certain jokes, while others felt adrift, even as they appreciated the world-famous tracks such as No Woman, No Cry and, yes, One Love. This may account for some of the less-than-positive reviews that have started to emerge.

“The film was surprisingly authentic,” said Stefanie Gilbert-Roberts, a Jamaican communications and culture professional who resides in Belgium. “But perhaps so authentic that it might seem out of this world for those not connected to the culture.”

Bob Marley: One Love, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and coming nearly 43 years after the iconic singer’s death, focuses on the Seventies and on two concerts that Marley and his band performed in Kingston, the Jamaican capital. Both events took place amid surging political violence on the island and were aimed at unifying the population. But before the first concert, gunmen stormed Marley’s home and shot him, his wife Rita, and his manager Don Taylor – an assault that shocked Jamaicans and international fans.

The film depicts the attack quickly, without dwelling on what must have been deep trauma for Marley’s family. Watching it, one can’t help but wonder at the effects on those who have now gone on to co-produce this movie: his widow Rita, their children Ziggy and Cedella, and the other family members involved such as Stephen.

Bob and Rita performed with their wounds at the Smile Jamaica concert in December 1976, and then left the island: he eventually for London, and she with the children to the United States.

The film shows Marley’s time in England, which is perhaps the least interesting part of the story – as viewers don’t really get an idea of how he dealt again with life away from “home” (he had lived in London before, in the early Seventies, signing to Chris Blackwell’s Island label). Instead, we’re given scenes of him jogging, playing football with his bandmates, joking with record executives, and getting inspiration for the title of the album Exodus, a global hit after its release in 1977.

Marley’s “relationships” are also not dwelt upon, as a viewer remarked after the screening. The most well-known of these, with Cindy Breakspeare (Miss World 1976 and mother of Damian Marley), is shown fleetingly in a scene where she watches him perform in a studio. Breakspeare is named in the credits as a consultant to the film.

Following his self-imposed exile in England, Marley would return triumphantly to Kingston to play the One Love Peace Concert in 1978, when he brought Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, leaders of the opposing political parties, together on stage to clasp hands.

It was a message again to Jamaicans to unite. By the time of the next general election in the country, in 1980, more than 800 people had been killed, and citizens were leaving the island in droves, taking their grief with them.

In the film, Rita (played by British actress Lashana Lynch) refers to one of the most shocking incidents during this period, when attackers set fire to a charitable institution, with residents inside burned alive.

For those who experienced these turbulent years, the film brings the memories crashing back, of both the horrific incidents and the music. Marley recorded his island’s troubles in song after song: Johnny Was, Concrete Jungle, Rat Race, Ambush in the Night, Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) and others.

In addition, there were the more playful tunes such as Roots, Rock, Reggae (with the opening lyrics “Play I some music”), and then the love songs, which the film highlights as well: Turn Your Lights Down Low being among them.

In the movie, Marley is seen playing this on the guitar to Rita, and it is then that one realizes that the whole biopic might actually be a love song to her, formulated by her children.

As portrayed by Lynch, Rita is a force, an artist in her own right, who needs to be both a backing singer for Bob and a parent to their children (as well as to his “outside” ones) – a situation she angrily describes in one argument scene. Lynch’s performance is perhaps the most memorable, and the writers could have given her greater scope by including more of Rita’s story.

Playing Marley, British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir works hard to capture the intensity and charisma of the singer, and he gives a credible performance. But the script needed more substance for a complete portrayal. Not shown, for instance, is Marley’s stance on relationships.

At an early interview in Kingston, he was once asked about these views, and his response was: if a woman loved him, she would love his other women. When questioned whether this might be acceptable were the situation reversed, he replied: She don’t do that. Still, he adopted the two children Rita had with other partners.

So, yes, artists are complex people, and certain aspects of his life might have been depicted, alongside the far-reaching and undeniable impact in addressing injustice, inequality, and marginalisation. This is a minor criticism, however. The film is worth watching – for the man, the music, the memories… and the question of how far the world still has to go in solving major ills.

At the screening in Belgium, co-organized by Paramount Pictures, Sony Brussels and the Jamaican Embassy, Marley’s importance was summed up by Ambassador Symone Betton Nayo, who gave a short speech before the film began.

“His ability to connect with people through his music, transcending cultural and geographical boundaries, has made him a symbol of unity, strength and hope,” Betton Nayo said. “He was not only a prolific writer of music, and a talented performer, but an inspiring messenger. Many of his anthemic compositions such as One Love, Get Up, Stand Up, Redemption Song remain relevant as we reflect on current global realities.”

With “Reggae Month” being celebrated in February, the film’s release is timely, paying tribute to an iconic Jamaican artist whose music lives on, with the call for peace, love, hope, and justice, Betton Nayo added. – AM/SWANBob Marley: One Love (Paramount Pictures)is currently in theatres.

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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