'Beckham' docu-series review: A love letter to themselves

‘Beckham’, a new four-part documentary on Netflix, on one of football’s greatest stars, is a vanity affair but it does have its moments.
David Beckham with wife and fashion designer Victoria at home
David Beckham with wife and fashion designer Victoria at home

A vanity production done right can be a guilty pleasure. Beckham, a new, four-part documentary on Netflix, certainly has its ducks in a row – a rise, a fall, and then a rise again, the storyline plotted to track one of football’s greatest stars, and his one “stupid mistake”; best buddies looking back at old history and explaining how the club (Manchester United) for which Beckham played from 1992-1999 was family that looked after its own; wife Victoria Adams and ex-Spice Girl bringing up the rear to talk Becks up as boyfriend, husband, and their true great love for which he would drive four hours after practice to spend 20 minutes with her; a working-class mummy and daddy and cute home videos showing the footballer aged six in a red sweater and a Man U kit pushing a ball around a tiny patch of green in front of the house or practising corners….What’s not to love? Who can bend it like Beckham?

Director Fisher Stevens does something smart right from the word go; he pitches Beckham as an ordinary bloke from East London who stays an ordinary bloke despite the Porsches, the multi-billion endorsements, the celebrity life shared with his perennially famous pop star-turned-fashion designer wife—word is she is now in talks for her own show—to underline the preciousness of  Beckham, and that one red card in a World Cup when England was playing Argentina in 1998 should not be allowed to define him. The film makes the case that roughly a decade ago, the world forgave Maradona’s ‘hand-ball’ at another Argentina-England World Cup game didn’t they?

The opening scenes of most of the episodes of the documentary set the tone, beginning without fail to show something heartwarming or cutesy. In one, we get to see Beckham the beekeeper; in another he is sitting across a lawn—yes, the patch of green is now way bigger than the East London home he grew up in—facing the couple’s country home from where he says he can see if his wife is standing “naked by the top window”. Over the documentary are other revelations–he is a clipper of candle wicks, a man who keeps the kitchen clean, is OCDish enough to straighten chairs in rooms and keep the socks in the wardrobe where socks should be.

What, however, makes most of the documentary work is that it looks at not just Beckham and his posh life but brings in a great cast of people with credibility to comment on ‘the scene’—best buddy Gary Neville, a former Man U team mate, in my opinion has some of the best lines. He says he was the “mustard and side dish” while Beckham was beef; that Beckham, whom he knew would go on to be one of the best midfielders of England, was “practising free kicks when I was practising throw-ins”.

The film captures how Beckham’s star rose in the ’90s when personal branding was entering the team game of football and the tussle it produced between old-school managers like Man U’s Alex Ferguson and players who wanted to go their own way and were planning careers beyond football like Beckham did; the rise of the trend of mainstream papers to follow paparazzi coverage and build hype and hysteria about the successes and failures of people they thought would become celebrities. Beckham in a sarong out partying with Victoria before that World Cup game, trouble in the couple’s marriage, the paps covered it all. The documentary shows the couple, perhaps for the first time, talking about it on camera.

The film, however, literally passes the ball to him in having the footballer rake up the Rebecca Loos affair—an episode that Loos may have moved on from—to say what sounds neither like a denial nor an affirmation of his part in it but is packaged to make Loos, his former assistant, look bad: “There were some horrible stories that were difficult to, erm, deal with. It was the first time that me and Victoria had been put under that kind of pressure in our marriage.” This is hardly surprising given that Beckham’s media company, Studio 99, has produced it.

The documentary, however, overall does manage to get in quite a few candid moments. At times, it comes off like a therapy session the couple did not sign up for or maybe that’s part of the plan. The director has retained in his edits a question here and there for which Victoria seems to have been unprepared—like what was she thinking when she broke the news she was pregnant before a significant World Cup game knowing that would distract him? Her answer in reference to another question is telling: “I am not into football. At all. I wasn’t into football then, I am not into football now.” But she is into Beckham who she says she wouldn’t mind watching even painting a wall—just like she did his games. Beckham, to sum it up, is a love letter of one Beckham to the other and we can just be part of the ride. 

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The New Indian Express