EXCLUSIVE: Jenny Ash, the UK director who has been nominated for an Emmy for America – The Story of Us, is developing a biopic of reggae legend Bob Marley. Ash’s feature will concentrate on the year Marley spent living in London in 1977. This was a crucial year for Marley. He’d fled Jamaica after an attempt was made on his life; the year ended with him sustaining a soccer injury which eventually triggered full-blown cancer. It was the year of punk rock; in London Marley hung out with the Sex Pistols. It was also the year of his legendary Rainbow Theatre gig. Crucially, he also started an affair with Jamaican beauty queen Cindy Breakspeare, who had just been crowned Miss World. Ash tells me she sees the biopic as a love triangle between Marley, his wife Rita and Breakspeare, whom Ash has spent time with in Jamaica. “There’s never been a fiction film about Marley,” Ash tells me. “We’ve never had a sense of him as a real man, as opposed to the legend.”
Greenacre Films – Nadine Marsh Edwards (Bhaji On the Beach) and Amanda Jenks (An Englishman in New York) — is the production company. Ash is repped by Tally Garner at Curtis Brown.
One bump in the road ahead is that the filmmakers don’t have rights to the songs yet. Given Rita Marley’s antipathy to Cindy Breakspeare, that’s a big if. Other planned biopics of Janis Joplin and Marvin Gaye have foundered because of rights issues. Rita Marley herself was executive producer on a planned Weinstein Company biopic based on her 2004 autobiography No Woman No Cry: My Life With Bob Marley. Lauryn Hill, who is Rita Marley’s daughter in law, was eyed to play Rita. Hill was going to play Rita in a previous Warner Bros biopic, based on Timothy White’s 1991 biography of Marley, Catch a Fire. That project fell through after director Ron Shelton, and his replacement George Armitage, both left the project.
President Obama introduced Ash’s two-hour section of the History Channel’s 12-part series America – The Story of Us, which dealt with slavery and the Civil War. Jane Root, former controller of BBC2, produced through her London-based Nutopia.
For the life of me, I can’t think who could possibly play Marley. The only name I can come up with Ashley Walters, the British actor who was in Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ with 50 Cent.