Here we have a documentary, about four hours long and centered on one man, where we don’t see anyone other than the man himself as the narrator. The Robbie Williams docuseries on Netflix, titled after the very man, makes the creative choice of dissecting the man rather than telling the story in a straightforward manner. It is a unique approach, for sure, but does it really work? Let’s find out.
Lying on his bed in his sprawling LA mansion, Robbie Williams takes us down memory lane through thirty years of documented footage. The tool is a basic-looking laptop. He plays and pauses the video while candidly talking about all the highs and lows of his life. Williams describes himself as a loner who is always in bed when he is not performing on stage.
Early Success With Take That And The Downward Spiral
Not many sixteen-year-olds get to be part of a hugely successful boy band and become a huge celebrity, right? For young Robbie, it just sort of happened. We don’t get to know much about his early life or his parents. All we see is this young boy getting his first taste of fame and going crazy. He was rather sweet and acted exactly like a teenager would in a situation like that. “Take That” became as big as The Beatles, and with the boy band soaring high, Robbie’s career took off. However, the love affair with success was going to end soon as young Robbie had a falling out with Gary Barlow, the lead vocalist of the band. Seeing Gary getting more attention than he got, the inevitable happened. At such a young age, Robbie got into alcohol and drugs and started to abuse them. This eventually led to his breakup with the boy band.
Now out of “Take That,” Robbie moved to London to find the way on his own. All he needed to do to salvage his musical career was create things on his own. But he needed proper guidance and a friend. Fortunately, Guy Chambers came along. He was also on the brink; looking at the abyss, and finding Robbie just gave him a purpose. However, things didn’t come easy, as despite coming up with singles, Robbie couldn’t sort out his addiction issues, and it kept getting worse day by day. The solo musical career was also not looking promising enough. With everything looking grim, Robbie had to opt for the only logical fix, which was going to rehab. Adult Robbie finds it really difficult to speak about this phase of his life, but he doesn’t hold back anything either.
“Angels” And How Robbie Dealt With Darkness
Only angels could save Robbie after all! Well, Robbie turned it around with his most iconic song ever, “Angels,” which turned out to be a runaway success. Robbie was finally back, and people hailed him as a solo artist. The days of him just being the guy who used to be in “Take That” were finally over, as the world now started to see Robbie Williams, the man. The first solo album was a huge success, following which Robbie and Guy set up camp in Jamaica to brainstorm the second.
Not all was completely okay, though. There’s a downside to glory, after all, and Robbie was unfortunate enough to be consumed by that darkness. His constant struggle with depression and anxiety attacks kept him on his toes at such a crucial juncture of his career. Robbie had it all—a successful musical career, a great girlfriend, a great future ahead of him—yet the darkness was too hard to deal with for someone lonely at the top. Constant gossip journal stories about him, most of which were fabricated, only made his life harder to handle.
A Meteoric Rise And Reconciliation
Robbie’s relationship with the media in his own country has always been sour. For the British media, the legendary singer has always been the epitome of everything wrong. If it were different, his life could have been easier. However, that couldn’t stop him from establishing himself as one of the greatest performers ever on stage, as his European tour was a rousing success story. The peak career moment probably came when Robbie got to be on stage with legends like Elton John, David Bowie, and George Michael at a concert. Now with a huge career and everything he could have possibly asked for, Robbie had one very important thing to do: reconcile with his old friends from “Take That”. After a little hitch, that worked out for him as well, and soon Robbie was on stage with “Take That” again in their reunion tour. Robbie Williams ends with a message of hope, although the series doesn’t spell it out to the audience.
I really like it when celebrities make it a point to talk about mental health issues, and it seems genuine enough. The documentary Robbie Williams starts with the man anxiously walking around his room. He can’t sleep, no matter how hard he tries. Of course, he goes on to talk about his own anxiety, depression, fear, and every demon that he has faced in life. True to the name, Robbie Williams is about him and what goes on inside his head. It was never intended to be a life story that is told from point A to point B.
Watching Robbie talk about it—putting his own self under the microscope and dissecting his own actions—is fascinating at first, no doubt. But at some point, it gets on your nerves. It becomes too much to take, really. Another thing that I found to be bothersome was that Williams didn’t give enough credit to his own music for playing a part in his salvation. Did the man not quite like his own music? He doesn’t say it, but at times it seems that way. Also, despite being a character study done in the first person, Robbie Williams often seems borderline narcissistic. Maybe a few other voices would have been able to take care of that, but there aren’t any, which I believe to be a carefully thought-out creative decision. Technically, there are other people, but they only appear in the footage.
It’s admirable to see a man like Robbie Williams talking about how difficult his life has been, but the entire narrative of glitz and glamor taking a toll on innocent souls is something that this world is already familiar with. In that context, the documentary offers nothing particularly exciting. In fact, it shouldn’t have been a series, probably because the four hours feel like quite a slog. A two-hour film would have been able to do the job. But I get it: Robbie Williams is a man who likes to introspect. That is a very good thing to do, nonetheless. And as much as I complain, there are some moments when Robbie Williams really touches you. Robbie’s daughter walking into the room while he is playing an old “Take That” video and then asking who his dad hated the most is genuinely adorable. The obvious question that should arise here is: Why should one subject themselves to four hours of Robbie Williams? Truthfully, I can’t come up with a definitive answer here. If you are a Robbie Williams fan, then you should definitely give this a go. Otherwise, you should act according to how curious you are. In conclusion, Robbie Williams is not exactly what I would call a good documentary series. But thanks to some really insightful words from the man himself and a bunch of meaningful moments, it is not particularly a waste either.