Cinema review: Marley @ Cornerhouse

By Claire Holden

Marley documents Robert Nesta Marley from his origins and birth to his death and his legacy.

The film details Bob’s influences, affairs and the love of his life – music.

It shows him as he was to those who knew him best and through the series of interviews they tell his story and development in a way that has never before been so personal or touching.

It is the latest from Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) who notably abstained from putting the music at the helm of the film.

As a result, Macdonald lets the audience know that life inspired the music, and here he takes the opportunity to explain that life thoroughly and eloquently.

The film begins in Ghana at a derelict palace, focusing on The Door of No Return through which slaves were sent out of Africa never to return, thus shaping the future Bob Marley’s life.

His character is largely developed in footage from Trenchtown where Bob discovered the Rastafari movement, a major factor in Bob’s life. They gave him the ethos that he lived by, that the purpose in life is to be happy.

Macdonald interprets Bob as a man who spent a lot of time searching for the father figure he never had, and being tormented through his youth because of his mixed race skin.

The director portrays the swift rise of Bob’s fame in Jamaica through accounts and anecdotes from people who lived at 56 Hope Road, a house that became a camp for those in his posse.

Here the subject of his womanising is explored, through interviews with his past lovers who are candid in their tales. However, interviews with his wife and friends reveal that Bob was actually a very shy soul and as such his notoriety for philandering is misconstrued.

While his wife Rita was on tour with him, she saw everything that went on. But here she explains that she had surpassed the role of wife by this point; she was his “guardian angel”, despite her husband having 11 children by seven relationships.

The film becomes decidedly darker when a brush with death during a political shooting at his home leaves Marley very aware of his mortality and the reality of the political instability set in. However, he would not shy away from the people who needed him as Africa was ripped apart.

In the end it would be the skin that had wrought his childhood with insecurities that would bring the world together as it married the political parties during the One Love peace concert.

The film shows Marley’s life as he would have lived it – through the people and places that he spent his life in, and the music that came from his soul.

It portrays him as a militant man, hard on his children and yet one whose love for people could save the world.  

Some powerful cinema indeed, and a fine biopic.

Marley is screening throughout this week and next at Cornerhouse. Visit here for more details.

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