Bob Marley’s image is ubiquitous, adorned on t-shirts, posters and tote-bags the world over. His music blares from beach front reggae bars in every holiday resort known to mankind. But the story of Marley the man is less well-known. Here, Kevin MacDonald sets out to demystify the man – and partially succeeds.

Born Robert Nesta Marley to a black Jamaican mother and a white English father, Marley struggled to find his place in the world. His brown skin made him the object of prejudiced taunts and he moved house often. His only constant was music – and when he finally rolled up in Kingston’s Trench Town he began to assert his individuality.

MacDonald’s film documents Marley’s rise from Jamaican pop-star to global icon, transforming himself along the way into the most recognisable symbol of his country. The assembled cast of interviewees and contributors is hugely impressive and extremely colourful – their love for him truly shines.  And key to the film’s success is the amazing live footage and photographs which MacDonald has exclusively secured.

Setting the story of Marley’s ascent against the political history of Jamaica contextualises the star and adds depth and credibility to proceedings. At times it’s not entirely clear what Marley’s politics were, but he was clearly a force for good and his role in various peace talks (and his associated shooting) are some of the documentary’s most poignant and powerful scenes.

Perhaps the film is little too hagiographic, though. Marley’s womanising is presented as a matter-of-fact but MacDonald makes little attempt to explore the many adulterous relationships which left Marley eleven children by seven mothers. Similarly, the depiction of Jamaica sometimes seems a little clichéd in the film’s early stages – and the closing titles are excruciating.

These are minor criticisms, however, in a film which presents stunning concert footage and intimate snapshots of one of the world’s most famous and talented musicians. MacDonald’s admiration for Marley is writ large here, and as a result one cannot help but fall for the smiling Rastafarian with the world at his feet. I really liked Bob Marley before i watched this film. I now have a throbbing man-crush.

Rating: 4/5

Review by Rob Ward.


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