Idris Elba? Bob Marley’s Son? Tuff Soundtrack? Revisiting 2003 Jamaican Musical Romance ‘One Love’

Julien Neaves, Caribbean Head Writer

Plot: An gospel singer and Pentecostal pastor’s daughter falls for a rasta musician as her gospel choir and his reggae band compete to win a high-paying music competition. But their romance is stymied by their differing beliefs, a vengeful fiancé, and a sleazy record executive. The film was written by Trevor D Rhone (The Harder They Come) and directed by Rick Elgood and Don Letts (Dancehall Queen).

Review: Wait, is that Idris Elba? That IS Idris Elba! During his time on megahit series The Wire and years before starring in crime procedural Luther or joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Mr Elba appeared in this 2003 Jamaican musical romance drama. And kudos to the English actor for pulling off a pretty convincing Jamaican accent, which is no small feat. I can count on my fingers how many times the accent has been butchered on film by non-Jamaicans, and I would need to start adding some toes. Elba plays Aaron, the somewhat stuffy and shady fiancé of Serena (Jamaican actress and reggae/dancehall vocalist Cherine Anderson).

Ay gyal?! Wha yuh ah do?!

Serena was raised in the church and on the surface is a “good Christian girl” but she has her doubts. She is domineered by her rigid and xenophobic father Pastor Johnson (Winston Stona) who is pressuring her to marry Aaron, the church keyboardist and accountant. Her quiet life begins to unravel when she meets Kassa (Ky-Mani Marley, reggae artist and son of the legendary Bob Marley), a charismatic reggae singer who tells her he saw her in a vision and is immediately enamoured with her voice (and later with the rest of her). But for obvious reasons Aaron and the Pastor are not too happy about them spending time together, and Kassa’s rasta brethren Bobo (Michael Holgate) also opposes the relationship because Serena is a Christian.

The story of star-crossed lovers from two opposing worlds is as old as Romeo and Juliet (or likely even older) but One Love presents an interesting spin on the trope. Marley and Anderson have okay chemistry but it’s nothing to write a song about. And, like most romantic movies, the rate in which they fall madly in love is a bit too quick to be believable. I was, however, impressed by Marley’s performance which was pretty solid for a non-actor, and he brought a welcome liveliness to his scenes. Anderson is a talented actress but I felt the writing did not give her much to work with other than mostly look forlorn and confused. In terms of the other performances, Stona was pretty good though I found the portrayal of him and the church in general was somewhat stereotypical and leaned towards caricature. I also enjoyed Winston Bell as the amoral Selector G but veteran Jamaican actor Carl Bradshaw, who appears as an “obeah man”, is highly underused.

Play it again, Kas…

In terms of plot, it follows most of the expected beats. They do mix things up with a fist fight, a framing, a couple of gun standoffs, a small heist, and one very unconvincing group brawl, but it is mostly paint by numbers here. And the ending attempts to wrap things up very neatly but it is a little too neat and leaves many, many unanswered questions. On the positive side the music and soundtrack is very good. Both Marley and Anderson are actual singers so the scenes where they perform had that added professional touch. Marley in particular was very entertaining. The soundtrack opens with the titular track One Love by Bob Marley and then continues with more modern Jamaican artistes like Sizzla, Junior Kelly, Sean Paul, Innocent Crew and Shaggy. Jamaican films usually have strong soundtracks but One Love has one of the best.

In conclusion, the film is a generic romance drama lifted by an energetic performance by Ky-Mani Marley and a pretty sweet soundtrack. So if you’re in the mood for a light love story set to a Jamaican beat then you should check out One Love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Editor Jules’s Score: 6 out of 10

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Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.