Bob Marley: One Love – The Biopic That Mostly Succeeds 

Packing the politics, the history, the love and the music into a couple hours remains a challenge


The interest in legacy music cuts across generations. This is certainly apparent when you check the statistics of which genre is played most heavily on Spotify and other streaming services. Not surprisingly, there has been a wave of bio pics reflecting that interest, whether it be retellings of the histories of Queen or Elton John, to name two recent successes. All such films struggle with the challenge of compressing into a couple hours the personal story as well as the historical context of the music being created.

That challenge is right at the surface of Bob Marley: One Love. Does the title of the film refer to Bob Marley‘s relationship with his wife? That is where much of the film’s 100 minute running time is spent. But the title certainly also refers to his relationship with music, with Jamaica and with religion.

The look of the film is excellent, re-creating accurately the very difficult economic and political landscape of Jamaica in the mid ‘70s. The ramshackle living conditions, the fractured political system and the consequent violence are a simmering cauldron from which Marley removes his family.

Decamping with his wife to London,  Marley undergoes a musical renaissance culminating in the magnificent Exodus album. The catalyst for the album was apparently the eponymous soundtrack of the 1960 film, which was being played by Marley’s band members when he was upstairs searching for a new direction.

Dropped into the London punk scene of 1976-77 a particularly enjoyable fish out of water sequence is when Marley and two bandmates see an early show by The Clash, the band most responsible within a couple years of introducing reggae to the otherwise monoculture punk scene. Not enough time in the film could be given to the influence of Junior Murvin, who nonetheless warrants a great scene being auditioned for Marley‘s band. Joe Strummer never stopped singing Murvin‘s praises.

The film relies on flashbacks to develop the storyline, the best of which is when the budding Wailers audition for the notorious producer Coxsone Dodd.

Lashana Lynch as “Rita Marley” and Kingsley Ben-Adir as “Bob Marley” in Bob Marley: One Love from Paramount Pictures.

The film’s standout performance is certainly Lashana Lynch playing the long suffering Rita Marley. Lynch commands the screen when she and Bob are arguing about their relationship in a street outside an elegant party. At first, Bob has the upper hand pointing out how he has provided Rita an opportunity to tour the world, but she comes right back at him, pointing out that she has to be wife, singer and mother to his children, whether hers or not. This puts Bob into silence. He is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir (whom I enjoyed in Peaky Blinders). Purists will argue his Trinidadian roots are not adequately Jamaican, but within about 30 minutes I was won over (even if his dreadlocks failed to grow into the lion’s mane we remember Bob flinging about).

Bob’s love of soccer weaves throughout the film but it’s surprisingly not used as one of the likely reasons he eschewed treatment for a toe injury that might have prolonged his life.

Understandably, music pervades the film and it is unlikely that we will see another film in the coming years with a soundtrack this solid. If you travel to any corner of the globe, it is most likely Marley will be the musical artist universally recognized. Another way to measure his ubiquity today is the likelihood that his merch and recordings are the most bootlegged of any artist. Certainly it is that global awareness that the film producers are relying on.

Somewhat like a Shakespearean play for those unfamiliar with iambic pentameter, here it takes some time after the start of the film for non-Jamaicans to settle into the patois of the dialogue.

Ganja is present in about every scene, which may be startling to some folks. As to the authenticity of the film, we have to rely on an opening sequence from producer Ziggy Marley, who says he was on the set every day of shooting to ensure his father’s story was told accurately. That would seem to belie the son’s enigmatic exchange with Trevor Noah at the Grammys last week, the former responding with one word answers while his fellow countryman opened the door for discussion of the film. Ben-Adir was sitting there, probably also perplexed.

Given the built-in constraints for the length of a feature film, coupled with the depth and breadth of Marley’s influence, the film falls short. But if it drives people to investigate more of his biography, then it is certainly a worthy gateway experience. In no context could much more be added to Marley’s pervasive influence in the musical world.



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.