About forty minutes into the fourth — and final — episode of the new Netflix documentary, Beckham, we find soccer superstar David Beckham at a welcome press conference in Los Angeles, addressing the media after his leaving the Spanish club Real Madrid and formally announcing his signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005. “My family have now moved to Los Angeles. The most important thing is my family. The second most important thing is the foot,” he catches himself, “…is the soccer.”
It’s a tiny moment in the grand scope of the series, but it speaks to what the first three episodes chronicle: his learning how to make, create, and maintain Beckham — the global brand. Beckham has been an instantaneously recognizable figure for over 20 years, but has proven hard to pin down. Unlike many sports stars, his story, or shtick, is multi-faceted and post-modern: football star, working-class boy made good, husband to Posh Spice, father, model, sex symbol, fashion icon, queer ally, and pop culture reference. He had, and still does, have the ability to be many things to many people. This is likely due to his quiet and stoic nature, allowing others to project their own interpretations and fantasies upon him.
This eminently watchable docuseries, directed by Fischer Stevens, gives a chance through multiple interviews for David Beckham to give context to his interior life to appear as a grounded human.
In the opening scenes, we see him puttering around his sprawling English estate, harvesting honey from his on-site bee colony. Later, he talks about how he meticulously maintains his home which is cutting candle wicks and doing dishes while everyone is asleep. He plans his outfits a week in advance. It paints a portrait of Beckham at age 48 and where he has ended up: exorbitantly wealthy, charmingly wandering around his massive house —likely driven somewhat by his OCD. What this series tries to explain is how he got there.
Stevens, recently recognizable as Hugo in Succession, is an American director, which feels important to the construction of the series. All four episodes serve as much as a crash course in European professional football, Beckham the midfielder, and UK tabloid culture for an uninitiated North American audience as they do in explaining the rise of Beckham. Chronicling the intensity and toxicity of English football fandom on both the professional and international level — we see and hear how young David Beckham is molded into a formidable talent by his intense father, his recruitment to Manchester United, his early courtship with Victoria Adams (Posh Spice), his eventual winnings on the professional level, and public humiliation on the international level that culminated in a red card during a World Cup match against Argentina in 1998.
Consistently, though, this series doesn’t feel like it’s about football, but rather, it’s about faces: candid faces, famous faces, and aging faces recounting their youthful glory. So much so that Stevens employs a consistent technique of shooting many of his interview subjects’ faces in close profile as they watch match highlight reels. As the audience, you see only glimpses of the video, but you gauge the moment’s excitement through the small smiles and lines forming around their mouths and eyes.
Visually, it’s more striking than had it been presented in a more traditional highlight-cut to interview-sequencing. It feels at times like you’re in a photography session befitting people who have spent their lives in front of the camera. Famous faces abound.
Elsewhere, Vogue editor Ana Wintour shows up briefly to talk about Posh and Becks’ charisma. Peter Hook, bassist of Joy Division and New Order, appears within the first five minutes only to say footballers had become the new Manchester rock stars in the 90s. Beckham’s former teammates and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and his parents provide commentary throughout the docuseries. They remark as inner circle members that still looked in from the outside as Posh and Becks became pseudo-royalty.
Little of what anyone says is anything particularly revelatory. Though his teammate, Gary Neville, and Beckham’s mother, Sandra, consistently leave memorable sound bites such as Sandra’s quip after English manager Glenn Hoddle blamed Beckham for the 1998 World Cup loss: “He just made my hit list.”
Contrary to her public image, only Victoria Beckham consistently comes off as remarkably candid and perceptive towards the man she’s been married to for 25 years and the fame industry they both inhabit. The man himself constantly proves affable despite his occasional stubbornness and selfishness. In many respects, he, as a person, still remains elusive, like he’s never sat down and contemplated much of what has happened in his charmed life. We still never quite feel that we know much about Beckham’s own thoughts or personal politics beyond the fact that he’s a hard worker and loves his family.
The interview settings, the displayed wealth , the championships, the haircuts, and the mass media saturation still speak to the inherent divide between the brand and the human on the other side of Stevens’s camera. Still most evident in Beckham’s voice, the post-modern, commodified body transforms into the articulate working-class boy.
The whole thing is hagiography, but never truly fawning; it humanizes a globally recognized face and name. This series does wonders for the Beckham brand, ensuring interest remains for the foreseeable future.