2012 Cert: 15

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Ever watched a police helicopter overhead and found yourself mesmerised; your eyes darting eagerly hither and dither in search of their prey? Imagine the same eyeball-dancing fascination watching Kevin Macdonald’s magnum opus tribute to Bob Marley. One doesn’t know where to look, afraid of missing a single image. I left the cinema exhausted and exhilarated.

Director Macdonald (Touching The Void, One Day in September) reveals his obvious admiration for the Rastafarian musical icon by raising Marley, as if needed, to further august stature – Marley the King of Reggae; Marley the musical messiah.

This is a sensitive biography relating how, soon after his birth, Marley and his Afro-Jamaican teenage mother (Cedella Booker) were abandoned by his father. Growing up in the poverty-stricken Saint Ann, Kingston, Marley released his first single aged 16 – Judge Not – introducing the world to his music and his poetic theme of the outsider. The film additionally touches on the supposition that Rastafarian religion was Marley’s substitute for the father figure lacking in his life.

Macdonald’s respect avoids delving too deeply into Marley’s private life, his endless love affairs; perhaps something to do with eldest son, Ziggy Marley, being one of the producers. Some could cry “evasion” (he fathered 11 children by 7 women) but this is not the place for gossip-fuelled speculation. Despite his reservations, Marley’s public image was never far from politics, including an assassination attempt, but his story is also mixed with humour (Marley’s love of football and… oh yes: ganja) and poignancy. Ultimately his rise to international stardom is about his music, his pain and his own search for individuality and global inter-racial brotherhood.

Marley is also a discerning story of Jamaica, the island’s clamber for identity against its British imperial heritage and the raising gangster culture immerging from deprivation and desperation.

Besieged with interviews (including family, friends, former ‘Wailers’ and  collaborators such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Bunny Wailer), mesmerising live performances, still photography, and a blissful Marleyian soundtrack, Macdonald’s honourable tribute skips allegro through two and a half hours until the icon’s untimely death aged 36.


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