Television: Beckham’s on target, but breadline film-makers move the goalposts

The ex-footballer’s celebrity outlook is seemlier than the way children are asked to talk about living in food poverty

On the road: Becks and his mates in ‘David Beckham Into the Unknown’

On the road: Becks and his mates in ‘David Beckham Into the Unknown’

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 01:00

Before David Beckham sets off on a motorcycle trip from Rio through the Amazon rainforest “to find himself”, his wife, Victoria, reasonably asks, “Why can’t you find yourself at home?” But he’s a recent retiree, and for the first time in 22 years no one has made any plans for him. So he and three mates are off to Brazil, to document his search in David Beckham into the Unknown (BBC One, Monday). Believe it or not, he really does talk about finding himself in the diary-style videos, which is sweetly naive, as he potentially exposes himself to all sorts of kickings. He’s so open, though, who’d want to?

Beckham’s expeditionary team is made up of a film-maker, an experienced motorcyclist, and his best friend since they were 14. They discuss the final details of their trip while downing Guinness – a brand manager somewhere is still hyperventilating – at Beckham’s local. Pottering around their fabulous London home, Victoria asks him what he’s going to do about his hair. The rainforest, she reminds him, is on the humid side.

The close-ups and in-jokes start early and establish how intimate a portrayal of Beckham this film is going to be. That and the filmed chat he has with his teenage son Brooklyn in the garden before he leaves, telling him to look after his mum and his little brothers and sister. For a film about four mates in leather jackets on a road trip, it’s not blokeish, and as Beckham appears to have survived two decades in the celebrity glare without loading up on guile and cynicism, his wide-eyed, up-for-it mood is infectious.

Refreshingly, the film is all about him. It’s not one of those vastly irritating travelogues the BBC loves making, presented by a celebrity on an ego trip that pretends to be about scenery. With its shaky handcam, off-the-cuff observations and relaxed style, David Beckham into the Unknown is all about the ex-footballer (it helps that he looks like a film star) and ultimately about his fame and paparazzi-magnet celebrity.

Beckham is happy to be recognised; in Rio he’s mobbed anytime he takes his motorcycle helmet off. “I remember being a fan, too,” he says as he poses for yet another photograph with an awestruck local. But he’s even more thrilled not to be recognised, although it’s not until they are deep in the rainforest that this happens. The film is not so much about Beckham finding himself as about finding a place where no one knows him. “What work do you do in your land?” their guide asks. “Play football.” The guide stares back blankly, provoking Beckham to elaborate. He’s explaining about goalposts and a ball and teams of 11 players to a man who doesn’t eat if he doesn’t hunt. “Have you ever had to explain football before?” his mate asks. “Never,” he says. “Only to my wife.”

And even after days sleeping in a hammock, his hair is still fabulous.

Malnutrition in the UK

The short documentary Breadline Kids (Channel 4, Monday) dishes up the shocking reality behind the rise of food poverty in Britain. According to Oxfam, in the seventh-richest country in the world, food banks and breakfast clubs to feed hungry children are multiplying, and the number of children suffering from malnutrition has doubled in five years.

The children tell their own stories about feeling hungry, about the days when there’s no food in the house and they have to go to a food bank (“the first time you’re embarrassed”), and how they know their parents are choosing between heating and eating.

The stories are harrowing and upsetting, especially because the children, who are as young as eight, are so articulate and matter-of-fact, explaining how “it’s not just in Africa that children are hungry” and how sore hunger makes their tummies feel. The interviewees seem picked for maximum emotional response: the children who know their mother resorted to prostitution to feed them; a child in treatment for cancer; another living with her granny because her mother is in long-term hospital care.

The programme is well made and engaging. I wonder, though, if children should be burdened with explaining an enormous societal problem they cannot fix. It’s certainly provocative, but, as always when vulnerable children are filmed, I wonder how they will look back on the experience in adulthood.

In an unintentionally ironic piece of scheduling, Hungry Britain was followed by the ever chirpy Jamie “Go on, kids, have some pulled-pork tortilla” Oliver, in his new Jamie’s Money Saving Meals (Channel 4, Monday). He made chicken and chorizo paella and chicken-liver pate for a couple of quid a portion. “That’s why we must love our leftovers,” he says. But, as he relies on a well-stocked pantry, I’m not sure his advice would help any of the parents in Hungry Britain, or anyone else. It’s seems more like a clever twist to feed the never-satisfied appetite for cookery books.

Stodgy puns

It’s halfway through The Great Irish Bake-Off (Wednesday, TV3) and I’m starting to wonder if some of the contestants are really bothered. Anna Nolan, its presenter, tries to keep it going with woeful pastry puns and pep talks, but it’s a downbeat production, and the interchangeable contestants are as bland as a white loaf. They bake just two things in an hour: on The Great British Bake-Off it’s three plus a segment on the history of some bun or other – so things are rather drawn out in TV3’s very smart-looking baking tent.

This week it is strudel. Cue “dough ray me” jokes from Nolan (actually, that one is funny), and whatever about the taste – it’s telly, so who knows? – most look like stuffed pigs’ bladders lying bloated and mottled on a slab, which I suspect is not what strudel is supposed to look like.

The show-stopper challenge is whatever the contestants fancy doing with choux pastry. Ali cheerily says her splodgy effort looks like roadkill. Khade’s choux version of the Samuel Beckett Bridge has a large rod of pastry sticking up between a few round eclairs, which looks a bit rude. And Tala, inspired by the game Jenga, stacks bits of choux pastry on top of each other in a messy leaning tower.

Khade says he won’t be surprised if he’s voted off; the look in his eye suggests he’s begging to get out of the logo-bedecked tent and away from all that sponsored flour – Odlums is getting a bang for its buck – but it is Tala who gets the heave. She doesn’t look too sad.

tvreview@irishtimes.com

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