My first introduction to David Beckham was the infamous Argentina versus England round-of-16 match in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. That was my first tryst with international football, and I also became an Argentina fan just because the majority of my family were Brazil supporters, and I had to be a rebellious kid. So Beckham, as I heard, was the biggest threat to my team. Argentina won that match on penalty, but more importantly, Beckham had to leave the field in the forty-seventh minute of the game after getting a red card. The red card was a farce. Even the man who was fouled by Beckham, Argentine midfielder Diego Simeone, says so in the Netflix documentary series. The Fisher Stevens docuseries highlights the infamous incident, along with all the other significant moments of David Beckham’s life, in the span of four hour-long episodes.
I suppose making a documentary on someone as big as Beckham is a tricky thing. You already know who he is, even if you are not into the game of football. And if you are a football fan, then you pretty much know about his life and career. So the obvious question is, why would you sit through four hours of content in this case? Well, trust Netflix to make things interesting, as they always do when it comes to the documentary filmmaking genre. Beckham is no exception either. Just like most of the Netflix documentaries, it is unputdownable from the get-go. The production quality is slick enough to keep you hooked and entertain you. And you do get to know Beckham up close and personal and see him in a light you have never seen before.
Home Is Where Manchester Is
It is admirable how two-thirds of the documentary focuses on Manchester United, despite Beckham’s ties with his boyhood club ending as early as 2003, a decade prior to him calling it a day. It was already a known fact, but Beckham makes it abundantly clear that the Red Devils mean everything to him, and he never loved a football club more than Manchester United. With Manchester United, the name of Sir Alex Ferguson goes hand in hand. The legend was gracious enough to appear in the documentary and talk about his relationship with Beckham in vivid detail, including the “Boot incident,” which made things really sour between them. However, for Beckham, Sir Alex was more than just a manager. He was more like a father figure, and their relationship has always been that way. He was protective of Becks ever since he first came to Manchester United as a prodigy, and a natural rift appeared between the two of them when Beckham’s superstar era started. Not to mention, Sir Alex was not happy with Beckham’s relationship with “Posh Spice” Victoria Adams and all the glamor and glitz that came with it.
But David Beckham himself was meant to be an icon. He was always supposed to be more than just a football player. Gary Neville, Manchester United Superstar and Beckham’s best friend (and later best man at his wedding), keeps talking about how Beckham used to spend all his salary within the span of a day while the other guys used to focus on savings. Beckham loved fancy watches, cool cars, and designer clothes. He was always the pretty-looking young lad with golden locks on his head. The term “flashy” had always defined him. But none of his off-the-field activities could affect his performance on the field. The meteoric rise of what would eventually become a career worthy of making a four-part documentary started with a legendary goal from the halfline against Wimbledon—something that even the great legend Pele couldn’t manage to do. From there on, there was no stopping David Beckham, as he continued to flourish in Manchester United’s colors and eventually went on to win the treble in the 1998–99 season. His free-kick soon became the stuff of legend, as were his brilliant passes from the right wing.
From Sinner To Savior
David Beckham never won an international medal for England. But a lot of great footballers haven’t actually won anything for their national sides. What really matters is the impact they manage to create. In that context, he would easily feature in any list of all-time great English footballers who have played for their country.
Fisher Stevens docuseries takes a very cinematic approach to telling the story of Beckham’s international career. He came to the team as this young, promising talent who was supposed to take England to glory. However, then-English manager Glenn Hoddle was not keen on Becks. Instead of trying to mince their words, Beckham’s parents and Becks himself voice their grudge against Hoddle for what he did. He did manage to turn things around after finally getting an opportunity at the 1998 World Cup. But then came that Argentina-England game. Simeone, a believer in winning at any cost, played a trick on Becks, which worked out. England lost, and the notorious English football fans made a villain out of Beckham. Hoddle added fuel to it, and so did then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. People kept harassing him and booing him everywhere he went, every game he played for Manchester United. David Beckham never said a word. He kept it to himself and kept doing what he could—giving his best on the field.
A few years passed by, and as fate would have it, Beckham, now England captain, got his chance at redemption. England needed a draw against Greece to reach the World Cup. They were one-nil down. Until a magical free-kick saved them. And it came from the man who’d had his effigy burned, who’d had his dummy hanged, and who’d received bullets in envelopes, as claimed by Manchester United receptionist Kath Phipps.
The Family Man
It was expected that the documentary would explore Beckham’s personal life more than we know it. As it turns out, David Beckham was the kind of romantic you would find in movies or books. Gary Neville confirms that Becks would travel four hours just to spend twenty minutes with Posh. He would never let go of the phone in the early days of their courtship. Family has always been his biggest strength, and Victoria is his one true love. Nobody believed he was telling the truth when he missed one day of Manchester United training because his infant son had a fever.
From his parents to Victoria and his children, the family has always played a huge part in David Beckham’s life and kept him grounded. It is sort of hard to believe when you see him talking about how he aims to raise his kids in an environment where they get to live normal lives. But there is a certain earnestness in his voice and in the way he speaks. It doesn’t even feel like you are watching a superstar footballer give an interview. David Beckham appears to be a very common, working-class man in this segment, which is a fascinating thing, in my opinion.
Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, And Beyond
There is a saying in modern-day football: if Florentino Perez wants someone on his team, he gets the man. Perez himself proudly declares it in a documentary. David Beckham and Real Madrid were always a match made in heaven, at least on paper. And Perez had it rather easy after the whole “Boot” incident, which led to Beckham falling out of favor with Manchester United. Inevitably, he became a Galactico. Unfortunately, his stint at Real Madrid was filled with drama and chaos. That was the only time his marriage to Victoria suffered as a rumor of an alleged affair started doing the rounds, which took a toll on him. His performance on the field became a shadow of what it used to be at United. His team also kept failing season after season, and Perez kept trying manager after manager. While Real Madrid finally found stability with the Italian Fabio Capello, one of the most respected modern-day football managers, Beckham found himself in a very awkward situation. He had already taken the deal of joining the Los Angeles Galaxy, with six months still remaining in the season. Becks found a permanent place in the stands, as the Real Madrid board instructed Capello not to include him in the team. But destiny had other plans. His teammates, the likes of Roberto Carlos and company, intervened and pleaded with Capello to get him on the field. Once that happened, Beckham spread his magic and turned the wheel around for Real Madrid. Winning his first accolade for Madrid in his final match for them was a poetic ending for him, even though he suffered an ankle injury during the game. Beckham not only left with his head held high, he left when all of Real Madrid wanted him to stay.
But he probably shouldn’t have. At least, that’s how it seemed at first, as his first spell at the LA Galaxy was horrendous. Not that it was particularly his fault, as football is really a team game, and the players of the team were not up for it. However, while Beckham struggled as a footballer in his new club, his family couldn’t be happier to be in America. It was actually great to see the documentary offering Victoria the opportunity to share her journey as well, along with David’s. It was quite natural for Victoria to get mad when David decided to move to Milan from LA for six months in order to improve his game at AC Milan as well as make himself available for national selection. Beckham, the family man, confesses that it was a selfish move, as he was kind of abandoning LA Galaxy. Landon Donovan, one of the most notable American footballers who used to play for Galaxy back then, publicly went vocal against Beckham. Donovan makes an appearance in the documentary and talks about it in a very candid manner. However, David Beckham had a knack for making things right. Just like what he did with Real Madrid, he did the same with Galaxy as well. He returned, scored goals, and conquered. Only then did he decide to leave for his final destination, Paris, to play for Paris Saint-Germain.
We know that David Beckham always had a post-retirement career in his sights, which he had been setting up for a long time, as told by him. What we didn’t know is that he didn’t waste any time and flew to America the day after playing his final football game for PSG. What did he do there? Starting a new football club in Florida that goes by the name Inter Miami; yes, the same one where a certain Leo Messi plays these days.
If there’s a certain kind of movie genre about which I am always less than enthusiastic, then that has to be a sports biopic. They are all so generic, where people fall only to rise up, as Alfred always suggests to Bruce Wayne. But in most cases, they are really boring to watch. The reason I am particularly bringing it up is because Beckham could have been designed in a very similar pattern, considering the kind of story it was telling. But Fisher Stevens made it in a very up-close and personal manner. And what we see is a riveting tale that is filled with real emotion, a lot of thrills, and a dash of humor, thanks to people like Roberto Carlos and Gary Neville. It almost feels like watching a fictional mockumentary show where very real people are playing characters. That’s the kind of vibe it gives, and that is exactly why it works so well.
Every single episode of Beckham starts with the man doing something you wouldn’t imagine him doing. Beckham is a beekeeper; he is a farmer; and he is also someone who does the dishes and cleans the house after everyone is asleep. To think this is the same man who created history by winning the football leagues in four different nations! And seeing him joking about it while playing football with his teenage son was pretty hilarious.
Beckham is an example of how storytelling technique can elevate very familiar stories of familiar people to a new height. Fisher Stevens, who was already an Academy Award-winning filmmaker as well as a Succession alumni (the same man who plays Hugo, believe it or not), has done a terrific job here. Football fan or not, you should definitely give this one a try.