The Battle for Britney review: BBC documentary fails to make sense of a complex subject

Mobeen Azhar fronts a well-intentioned show that ultimately fails to speak to anyone with real authority

<p>The Battle for Britney Spears is the latest documentary to try and make sense of the row surrounding her controversial conservatorship</p>

The Battle for Britney Spears is the latest documentary to try and make sense of the row surrounding her controversial conservatorship

There’s a museum in Britney Spears’s hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana, that has an entire wing dedicated to the pop star. Around the corner from the posters, the statues and the memorabilia is a bedroom full of Spears’s childhood furniture. It’s a stark reminder that Spears, whose family donated the furniture to the museum, was once a little girl just like any other. The BBC’s documentary, The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship, is a well-intentioned but flawed attempt to find out what happened to her.

Like Framing Britney Spears, the BBC’s documentary has no trouble demonstrating the media horror-show that has tormented Spears since the release of “... Baby One More Time” in 1999. There’s a stomach-churning encounter with paparazzo Rick Mendoza, who shows zero shame in cashing in on the celebrities he trails around LA. There are also interviews with fans and the people who used to know her.

That “used to” is important. The Battle for Britney rarely comes close to anyone with a real insight into what Spears has been through since her public breakdown in 2008 (the event that led to her being placed under a conservatorship managed by her father, Jamie Spears). The highlight is Bafta-winning Mobeen Azhar who, as presenter, demonstrates extreme patience and compassion towards campaigners from the #FreeBritney movement (depicted here in varying degrees of calm and hysteria). He’s unafraid to call out Perez Hilton, the notorious hack who, as Azhar notes, “practically invented” the celebrity gossip blog.

The ethics of providing Hilton with a platform at all – given his despicable treatment of Spears and her contemporaries – is questionable. Azhar definitely puts the screws to him, showing him a blog post where he wrote “unfit parent” over a photo of Spears and asking him whether he might have contributed to Spears’s breakdown. “It’s a possibility,” Hilton says, adding: “I feel awful. I definitely don’t do that anymore… I am reaping the consequences of my actions.” It’s galling to see him say that while sitting in his beautiful West Hollywood mansion – particularly when his latest attacks against a famous teenage girl took place last year.

Another unreliable witness is make-up artist Billy B, who has worked with a number of celebrities, Spears included. The Battle for Britney introduces him as someone who “knows” Spears and who claims to still speak to her regularly. What it fails to mention is that, earlier this month, Spears made a public comment stating she was not talking to Billy B, in response to his claim that she was not writing her own social media posts. “I’m not sure who he is talking to, but I am not talking to Billy B,” she told TMZ. Billy’s authority on anything regarding Spears, her personal life or the conservatorship subsequently seems dubious, if not downright non-existent.

Ultimately, the BBC’s documentary suffers the same issue as Framing Britney: a lack of hard evidence. Most of it is based on speculation, guesswork, or things we already knew. The fact that Hilton features as a lead witness shows what a near-impossible task it is to come close to Spears’s inner circle. If anything, The Battle for Britney serves best as a portrait of the circus revolving around what is an extraordinarily complex and sensitive situation.

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