The Netflix docu-series offers a watered-down account of David Beckham’s life and storied career
Story: The four-part mini-series examines David Beckham’s career, from his early days and success with Manchester United to his controversial move to Real Madrid, and his involvement with football in America with the MLS – both as a player and a club owner. His relationship with his wife Victoria Beckham, the former Spice Girl, is also put under the microscope.
Review: Documentaries about footballers these days are often glorified PR campaigns to elevate their respective ‘brands’ on the global stage – much like the out-of-touch documentary on Neymar which was released last year on Netflix titled Neymar: The Perfect Chaos. While David Beckham certainly does not require additional publicity, as he’s arguably one of the most recognisable and influential figures of the 21st century, he has taken a backseat in the era of social media football stars. In retrospect, it is a blend of Wayne Rooney’s documentary, titled Rooney, and Neymar’s, Neymar: The Perfect Chaos.
Unlike the aforementioned documentaries, Beckham offers exclusive interviews with some of the biggest names in football history, including the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson – people who are in fact placed on a much higher pedestal in the footballing fraternity than Beckham himself. The level of access and resources at the disposal of the filmmakers is almost enviable, something which most other documentary filmmakers are not afforded. The documentary is directed by American actor Fisher Stevens, who has played character roles in some of the biggest films and TV shows over the years. So it should come as no surprise that the sheer scale of the documentary is almost Hollywood-esque.
The documentary’s greatest strength lies in its first two episodes where Beckham opens up about how his infamous red card against Argentina in the ‘98 World Cup, turned the entire nation of England against him. It offers a poignant insight into the abuse and threats he had to endure for months both on and off the pitch. While it is evident through the documentary itself that it was Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and the Old Trafford faithful who offered him a safe space during the turbulent time, he implies that it was Victoria Beckham who deserves credit for getting him through the incredibly tough period in his life. No one can question the value of emotional support his wife may have offered at the time, but the whole narrative comes off as disjointed.
There are several occasions where the documentary conveniently glosses over or distorts the truth. For instance, the much publicised ‘Mohawk haircut’ controversy with Ferguson, is altered ever so slightly with Beckham insisting that his boss was enraged because he simply shaved his head – ignoring the fact that he himself has admitted in the past that it was Ferguson who asked Beckham to shave his head after coming to a season opener sporting a Mohawk. In fact, upon close examination, one would come across several instances where both David and Victoria Beckham have skirted around the truth.
Victoria Beckham proves to be an unreliable narrator with almost her very first lines in the documentary when she claims that she comes from a working-class background. Her husband immediately contradicts her by asking her what car her father drove to drop her off at school, to which replies, “...a Rolls-Royce”. While this interaction does give the impression of friendly banter between a married couple, it underlines the fact that some of Mrs Beckham’s statements should be taken in with a grain of salt. It is almost ironic that the former Spice Girl who was called ‘Posh’ Spice would insinuate that she is from a working-class family. To the credit of the documentary filmmakers, there are occasions where they contradict some of the statements by the Beckhams, either through opposing views offered by some of the other interviewees or by careful placements of archival clips. Beckham’s alleged affair with another woman is briefly mentioned but is quickly set aside in the documentary.
For those who grew up supporting Manchester United, the mini-series does not present any groundbreaking new information. In fact, fans might be able to offer a bit more insight into some of the events that transpired in Beckham’s career, such as why his proposed move to Barcelona fell through and he moved to Real Madrid instead. And the involvement of other variables in the said deals, such as a certain man named Ronaldinho and the man who replaced Beckham at Manchester United – an 18-year-old named Cristiano Ronaldo. There are several other things the documentary failed to highlight, such as Beckham's controversial involvement in Qatar’s World Cup hosting. The docu-series has also refused to even mention some of the original ‘rockstar footballers’ from Manchester United such as George Best and Beckham’s former teammate Ryan Giggs – two footballers who were arguably more gifted and decorated than Beckham.
Despite a few glaring issues, the documentary is certainly an eye-opener for those who are unfamiliar with Beckham’s career. His former teammate and friend Gary Neville offers an objective and balanced account of Beckham’s time at Manchester United and the England national team. And it’s a bonus to have football legends such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Gary Neville, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Fabio Capello, and Roberto Carlos come together for one documentary.
Verdict: The four-part docu-series chronicles the life and career of one of the biggest sporting icons of the 21st century – David Beckham. While the documentary does lean on glorifying its subject, and might even come off as slightly pretentious, it does offer moments of poignancy. It also delivers excellent interviews with some of the biggest names in football history.