Beckham on Netflix review: A cosy but candid insight into an icon – just don’t ask about infidelity

There’s nostalgia galore, a cast of football greats and a gripping portrait of the birth of a celebrity brand. Posh and Becks are happy to talk about anything from fights with Fergie, crude chants, THAT red card, sarongs and matching purple wedding outfits, but director Fisher Stevens stays friendly on trickier topics

Jessie Thompson
Saturday 07 October 2023 11:53 BST
Fame 'changed' David Beckham, Alex Ferguson says in new documentary

Football is full of sliding doors moments. What if Gareth Southgate hadn’t missed the penalty at Euro 96? What if David Beckham hadn’t been sent off against Argentina at France 98? Now Netflix’s new access-all-eras four-part documentary about Golden Balls poses a new one: would Becks have got the red card at all if Victoria hadn’t told him, the night before the match, that he was about to become a father?

“So you tell him right before the biggest game of his life? Did you think it would help him for the game?” asks director Fisher Stevens. “I don’t really know…” replies Victoria. In fairness, we can’t really lay the blame of 57 years of hurt (in the men’s game, that is) at the door of nepo baby/culinary genius Brooklyn Beckham. But the admission is one of the more extraordinary exchanges in this cosy but candid series, which is part love letter to a generational footballing talent and cultural icon, part dissection of the birth of the modern celebrity brand.

Most will know director Stevens as Hugo in Succession – the guy who said he would woof for Kendall Roy. But he has an impressive background as a director, including the charming, poignant Bright Lights, which followed Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds around in what would be the last years of their lives. His approach here may not be Paxman-like, but he assembles an impressive cast of interviewees, from Beckham’s parents to Sir Alex Ferguson to Eric Cantona to Argentina nemesis Diego Simeone, and has an impressive knack for getting them all talking. (One slightly disconcerting stylistic touch offers close-up shots of Beckham and co watching footage of their old games, during which they look all blissed out and post-coital.)

The first two episodes are a captivating mix of Nineties nostalgia and an undeniably brilliant story. Beckham, plucked out of working-class obscurity when he was just a teen by then Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, cements his golden boy status with an eye-boggling goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon in 1996. Soon, he’s bagging sponsorship deals and entering into one of the most famous celeb couples of all time with Posh Spice (“they were like Charles and Diana,” says Gary Neville).

Those who were around Beckham during his rise to fame seem to have played a vital part in keeping him relatively normal, providing both camaraderie and total bewilderment at some of his excesses. Former United teammate Roy Keane didn’t understand why Beckham spent a lot of money on a “fancy pen” – “who the f*** buys a pen?” Neville wasn’t bothered about going to Manchester superclub the Hacienda: “I don’t like nightclubs. Not for me. The music, the noise.” And Kath Phipps, United receptionist for five decades, ignored all the knickers Beckham was sent: “I’d put them to one side and didn’t reply.” So famous did he become that a Manchester paparazzi photographer admits that he got so many phone calls when Beckham shaved his head that “I honestly thought someone in my family had died”.

It’s clear that the highs were high and the lows were low. Although Simeone mischievously admits that he didn’t think the infamous red card was deserved, that incident has obviously been a defining moment in Beckham’s life. Would we allow any young star to become a national hate figure to such a relentless extreme today? You’d like to believe we’re now, as a nation, far more mindful about mental health. And while Beckham won trophies and made millions, he also fell out of favour with various managers who believed him not to be focused enough on football. As his career progressed, Ferguson’s protegee, with his glamorous wife and taste for the finer things in life, seemed to become the antithesis of the steady, stable young men the Scotsman wanted on his team.

Therapy session: David Beckham opens up in the documentary (Netflix)

There is something gripping about seeing the most famous celebrity couple of the last 25 years in such intimate proximity. We discover that Beckham likes to go around clipping candle wicks every morning. We hear that he used to drive for hours just to see Victoria for “seven minutes” at the height of her Spice Girls fame. The couple sound like they were totally obsessed by one another from the start, and still come across as very content today. But they only let us in so far. Although they’re happy to joke about a fan chant about how “Posh Spice takes it up the arse”, they keep it vague when talking about stories of Beckham’s alleged extra-marital affairs. “It was the hardest period for us,” Victoria says. “Ultimately, it’s our private life,” David adds later, seeming to draw a line under it.

The latter episodes – documenting Beckham’s move to Real Madrid, questionable signing with LA Galaxy and founding of the pink-wearing home of ageing sport legends Inter Miami – capture the bittersweet years of a sportsman winding down his career while clearly still in love with the game. They’re perhaps less captivating, without the wry, grounding wit of the likes of Keane and Neville, but they show a man who became a symbol trying to work out what to do with the rest of his life. Both the Beckhams describe the making of the documentary as “therapy” – but it will probably be just as cathartic for a generation of fans still starry-eyed with nostalgia for those halfway-line lobs.

‘Beckham’ launches on Netflix on Wednesday 4 October

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