This Week in TV: David Beckham – Into the Unknown, Street Kid World Cup, My Last Summer and I Wanna Marry Harry

As we head into a summer of sport this week’s focus is on two football-related shows plus one of the most ludicrous TV formats in recent memory

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What do you do with your if you’re one of the most recognisable and well-paid footballers in the world? Well if you’re David Beckham you head off into the Brazilian rainforest with a cameraman in toe for what felt like a mini gap year type trip. Beckham’s journey around Brazil was documented in Into the Unknown which was filmed by the former footballer’s friend and journey-mate Anthony Mandler. As well as having the feeling of a Michael Palin travelogue, Into the Unknown was given an An Idiot Abroad feel thanks to Beckham roping in his Karl Pilkington-like childhood friend Dave Gardener. Completing the foursome was Beckham’s L.A. pal Derek White who provided expertise about the motorbikes the group were riding during their trip; an aspect of the documentary which drew comparisons with Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Down. The documentary had two purposes the first of which was to journey into the heart of the country that was hosting this year’s World Cup. Although Beckham’s first experience of the country was to be surrounded by young fans who were hankering for his autograph he ended the trip trying to explain the concept of football to a member of a remote tribe. At the same time, Into the Unknown also acted as a candid exploration of Beckham as he worried about what he was going to do in the next stage of his career. Whilst I think Beckham’s problems are quite secondary to a lot of regular people’s, it was still good to hear him voice some of his own personal regrets. We got to hear him admit to his selfish attitude as regards being away from his family as well as opening up about his being sent off during the 1998 World Cup. I do feel on one hand that this is probably the most candid insight into Beckham’s life we’ll ever have whilst at the same time I couldn’t help but feel that these segments were a least a tad self-indulgent.

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The theme of self-indulgence was definitely a recurrent one as I would describe Mandler’s direction in quite the same way. The arty shots that Mandler employed didn’t suit the style of a BBC One primetime programme and it felt to me as if the director’s initial intention was to air the documentary on the big screen. That would in turn explain the ninety minute running time which to me was far too long and meant that at points I was utterly bored. As somebody who isn’t really a football fan I know very little about Beckham but judging from his portrayal in the documentary he seemed like a decent guy. I enjoyed seeing behind the doors of his massive mansion and in particular how he interacted with his children before he went on his travels. Once the travelling began however I started to lose interest and, apart from Beckham, I really didn’t care about any of the other travellers. Beckham’s mate Dave was particularly irritating as he’d obviously been asked to act as stupidly as possible and come out with the most ludicrous one-liners. The most interesting part of the programme came when the group met the Yanomami tribe and I wish that the documentary had spent longer in their natural habitat. But then that would’ve taken away from Into the Unknown’s major purpose; making us fall in love with David Beckham as he opens up about his life. Into the Unknown was ultimately an inoffensive programme which I’m sure Beckham’s biggest fans will enjoy immensely. But I personally struggled to get through it due to its over-indulgent nature and needlessly long running time.

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Whilst Into the Unknown shone a light on the glamorous side of football it was up to BBC Three to show the good work that the beautiful game can do. Street Kid World Cup was a two-part documentary series that followed nine girls who comprised the England team for the titular soccer tournament. All of the girls that took part were either living in care homes or with foster carers and wanted to show that not all youngsters in their situations were hooligans. Indeed the captain of the team, Sam was a very insightful young lady who tried her best to rally her troops even in defeat. Other team members including sisters Camille and Olivia, who struggled to feel at home in the house of the foster carers they’d live with for a year. The most-troubled of all of the girls was 15-year-old Sherelle who was portrayed as a flight risk having gone missing after one of the team’s pre-tournament practise. It was a testament to manager Des that he took a chance on Sherelle and allowed her to fly to Brazil alongside the rest of the team. I have to applaud Des and the other adults who worked with the team as they were some of the most patient individuals I’ve ever seen. But their persistence paid off as the girls’ self-confidence started to grow despite the fact that they crashed out of the tournament following the group stage. But I didn’t feel that Street Kid World Cup was about football but was instead about the girls meeting kids who were in similar situations to themselves. I did feel that the documentary portrayed their growth over the tournament and allowed some of their number to realise their dreams of playing football professionally. More than anything Street Kid World Cup once again proved that BBC Thee provide a vital service in documenting the different aspects of growing up in modern day Britain. It’s a shame then that the channel that regularly produces compelling documentaries such as Street Kid World Cup will soon be confined to an online-only service.

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Over to Channel 4 for some rather brave programming that has nothing to do with the impending sporting tournament. My Last Summer gathers together five very different people who have one thing in common, they are all suffering from terminal illnesses. The programme allows the quintet to talk openly about dying to the only people that will truly understand their dilemma. The producers definitely lined up a diverse group of participants including former social butterfly Jayne whose breast cancer had spread throughout her body. Old home video footage portrays Jayne as the life and soul of the party but she later reveals that her illness has put a strain on her various relationships. We later meet fellow cancer sufferer Junior; a DJ who has eleven children by ten different women. One of the most compelling parts of this first episode is seeing the relationship between Junior and his girlfriend Sonja who reveals that she probably wouldn’t still be with him if he wasn’t dying. It’s these candid moments that make My Last Summer a real eye-opening watch with another example being motor neuron-sufferer Lou’s chats with her daughters about her ultimate fate. Lung cancer sufferer Ben and Andy; who contracted a bacterial condition whilst being treated for leukaemia, aren’t featured as much in this first episode but are both presented as likeable characters. It’s fair to say that My Last Summer was a tough watch but at the same time I applaud Channel 4 for discussing the tricky topic of death. The debate over whether the five should have the right to end their own lives is also brought up and Jayne’s wish to take a pill when the time comes is especially interesting considering her religious beliefs. I’m really intrigued to see what realisations the group will make during their next few meetings as the next episode sees friends and families join them at the house. Packed full of emotional moments and controversial debates; My Last Summer is definitely one of the most important programmes of the year and at the same time it feels utterly relatable.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous now thanks to ITV2′s latest international acquistion; the Fox reality show I Wanna Marry Harry. In the tradition of Joe Millionaire, I Wanna Marry Harry is another dating show in which gullible American women are tricked into believing they are romancing a wealthy individual. But whilst it was easy to believe that the men in Joe Millionaire did earn a fortune, the concept in I Wanna Marry Harry is harder to buy. The object of the women’s affections in this show is Matt, a young British workman who has to borrow a friend’s bike to get around town. But, according to the programme, Matt bears an incredible likeness to Prince Harry and therefore is made over to look exactly like the heir to the throne. The majority of this episode sees Matt attempting to learn all he can about the Prince before the American girls are jetted into what looks like a replica of Downton Abbey. All of the contestants conform to various clich├ęs including the brainy one, the country hick and the slutty one who does all she can to try and lure Matt. One element of the show that I didn’t quite grasp was the fact that Matt was never referred to as Harry but instead ‘sir’. I’m guessing that this either due to some legal ramification or because Harry and his ‘butler’ Kingsley are trying to let the girls make their own minds up about their potential suitor. I Wanna Marry Harry should really be pure guilty pleasure TV as we watch some feckless Americans romance a man who I feel looks nothing like Prince Harry. But instead I found the majority of it dull especially the scenes in which the girls fought over what clothes they were going to wear to the masquerade ball. Despite the programme being a fairly easy watch, its formulaic nature and idiotic premise mean that I probably won’t be tuning in to see the moment in which Matt finally reveals he’s not a royal after all.

Next Time: Common, The Honourable Woman and Murdered by My Boyfriend

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