Marley (3 stars)


A comprehensive documentary on the singer that would have benefitted from delving a little deeper

(15) 145 mins

Executive produced by Bob Marley’s son Ziggy and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, Kevin Macdonald’s comprehensive, if overly reverential, documentary chronicles the life and times of the first musical superstar from the third world to gain a global audience, with the reggae singer’s posthumous Legend album selling some 25 million copies.

Leaving aside his impressive musical accomplishments, Marley’s personal story is undeniably fascinating. Born into grinding poverty in rural Jamaica, he was the son of white forester father Norval and a black teenage mother, and consequently experienced profound feelings of ostracisation and alienation. A devotee of the Rastafarian religious movement, Marley attempted to stem the political violence that blighted Jamaica during the 1970s by playing various peace concerts, despite a botched assassination attempt on him and his manager. He died, riddled with cancer, aged just 36 years old in a Miami hospital.

In Marley Macdonald favours a conventional approach to his cinematic storytelling. There are interviews with over 60 individuals, including Marley’s wife Rita, several of his children (who reveal he was a disciplinarian and hyper-competitive father), and his half-siblings, alongside such Jamaican musical legends as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Bunny Wailer. Amongst the archival treasures the director has managed to unearth are images of Marley playing football in Battersea Park in the mid-1970s, shots of Prince Charles at a Zimbabwean independence concert at which Marley was the star turn, and tumultuous scenes of Emperor Haile Selassie, the divine Rastafarian representative on earth, visiting Jamaica during the 1960s. What remains unclear is how Marley’s defiant political and religious beliefs became commodified over time, turning him into a poster-boy of ‘cool’ for white, middle-class students. At times you wish Macdonald had pushed his interviewees a little bit further in their recollections; by including a superfluous coda involving a montage of children from around the world singing along to 'One Love', Macdonald is at times guilty of softening Marley's legacy.

Selected release from Fri 20 April.

Marley Trailer


  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • US / UK
  • 2h 24min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
  • UK release: 20 April 2012

Kevin Macdonald's documentary chronicles the rise of Bob Marley, the first musical superstar from the developing countries to gain a global audience. With many archival treasures, the result is a comprehensive portrait but it's overly reverential and the interviews could have delved a little deeper.

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