The spotlight shines, and the world bends, beckons to David Beckham.
In the first episode of Netflix’s new Life and Times series, Beckham, there is a laser focus on the kick that changed the world.
A life-changing match plays in medias res and the crowd screams in tandem with the goal he makes. “Beckham! Beckham!” The sports commentator rouses the crowd into further fulfillment and echoes their chant, albeit in a softer tone, but the intent is still the same.
The spotlight shines, and the world bends, beckons to Beckham.
Footballer on the rise David Beckham’s journey from sports prodigy to a headliner for famed team Manchester United is a tale as old as time—the classic underdog star and the glitz that comes with it. Football fans know his story like the back of their hand, so what pulls the audience to invest four hours in a biography that has been told over and over again?
The hero story
It is rare for most sports figures to become producers of their own documentaries. The yesteryears mostly featured a more omniscient view of things, where researchers and fans alike come together to tell the story from their points of view. But Beckham made it clear from the get-go that he made this with a wholesome purpose in mind.
“I wanted to make it for my family, for my kids, for the grandkids, for my mom and dad to look back on it and have something to cherish, because it has been a journey. It’s been unbelievable what I’ve been able to do in my life,” Beckham says.
Indeed, Beckham tells it like it is, willingly opening most of his life, his home and his team (including Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who changed his life). In the midst of it all, you will find yourself rooting for him—the young and sprightly footballer who started playing football as a boy and had his dream realized before he was even really a man. Wouldn’t you root for that?
The first and essential ingredient of a successful documentary is the hero story. It is the reason why most reality shows like American Idol focused on rags to riches stories—a diamond in the rough with the vocal capacity of Whitney Houston.
People love a good underdog story—and the satisfaction that comes when he wins.
The secret of reality TV and documentaries
Pop sensation Taylor Swift defined it best in her Lover music video. Yes, the excuse to put Swift anywhere is valid, given her rumored ties to another sports star Travis Kelce (who also has his own documentary by the way, Kelce). In one scene, Taylor swims with her lover in a fishbowl. Dress swishing in the water, she falls in love while the whole world is watching. This scenario births reality TV stars and celebrities. Everyone wants a piece of the action.
People love a good underdog story—and the satisfaction that comes when he wins. Beckham has us all rooting for him.
There is no need to defend Beckham here. Everyone including their mother knows who the football star is. His story will be told for generations. But there is a huge factor at play here. It is one thing to read about it, and another to watch it play out. A great example of a short form documentary is Vogue’s 78 Questions, where a Vogue cameraman and host asks 78 intimate questions to their on-cam guest.
It is a study in intimacy. Who is the man behind the uniform? What are the other goals he hits outside of the net? Is DB’s Sticky Stuff really that sticky? The documentary answered those questions in full, while still maintaining that air of mystery that separates the celebrity from the common folk.
A “posh” love affair
As a non-sports fan, the story that had my eyebrows raised was the story of David and Victoria. I knew David stood on his own, but I always saw them both instead of just him. It’s like Bonnie and Clyde, David and Victoria Beckham. They were attached to the hip, and Victoria’s last name was always Beckham to me, not Adams. (Yes, Spice Girls fans, come at me.)
While I knew portions of their love story, it was difficult to avoid grinning at a fawning Beckham who fell in love with Victoria at first sight. Lily Aldrin of How I Met Your Mother can define this as “the quarterback and the cheerleader story,” except the cheerleader already had a name of her own prior to marrying into the family.
“I’m going to marry that girl,” he shares, his smile imminent and his tone sure. As a romantic comedy fan, this was a meet-cute waiting in the wings. The stage was set, and sure enough, several games later, they were dating – the whole shebang. Victoria (or “Posh Spice” to beloved fans) would visit his games and said, “People would call it ‘stalking,’ but I call it ‘seeing.’”
Scandal, tears, and vulnerability
The last piece of the sports documentary formula (or for any reality TV formula, for that matter) is the murky in between. Beckham succeeds in detailing the murk and the gray area without painting anyone in a negative light. Yes, Beckham cries. Yes, Beckham goes through mental health challenges. Yes, the Beckhams went through a rough patch in the marriage.
It’s reality TV breadcrumbing (in the best and juiciest way possible) without the overt pointing of fingers. It is addressing the rumors with class and posh (pardon the pun) while still ensuring that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Most of all, it is acknowledging the man behind the master, the machine of front kicks and goals – that despite what the world thinks, he is still human.
Like with any good story, the documentary ends with the BBC asking, “What does David Beckham plan to do next?” With The Turtles’ “Happy Together” providing the ending montage song, he plans to put up a Major League Soccer Team in Miami. As someone who wanted to make a name for himself in and outside of football, the opportunities are endless for one David Beckham. But for now, his story ends here.