Wednesday 22 November 2017

Becks takes the road least travelled on personal quest

David Beckham and friends
David Beckham and friends

John Boland

Here we go. Nearly five weeks of men from all over the world kicking a round object up and down a field, otherwise known as the beautiful game, though I gather that only applies to Brazil, whose footballers are apparently touched by bewitching magic. But more of that anon.

First, while remaining in Brazil, let's marvel at David Beckham, who found fame and fortune kicking a ball up and down a field and even more fame and fortune when he met and married Posh Spice, thereby becoming part of the mega-famous David-and-Victoria brand. Why, the man can't go anywhere on the planet without being besieged by adoring fans, which can all get a bit much for a nice boy from Leytonstone.

Hence David Beckham: Into the Unknown (BBC1), in which David sought to find himself by losing himself 300 miles up the Amazon, where he might even encounter people so primitive they'd never heard of him.

David, in fact, was somewhat obsessed with his celebrity and with what it might feel like not to be mobbed, though whether he would welcome that unlikely scenario was unclear. Yes, he did say at the outset that this Amazonian adventure would involve "just me and three of my mates", but one of the mates turned out to be an American moviemaker who was there to film the whole thing.

And if he was seeking anonymity, why the scene at a jungle cafe in which the moviemaker chum called out to a bemused local family seated nearby: "Do you know who he is?"

Eventually, the lads encountered a tribe so remote from the clamour of contemporary life that they not only hadn't a clue who the footballer was but knew nothing about the game that had made him famous.

The film was made bearable (just about) by David himself, who has always seemed a sweet-natured, if entirely uninteresting, guy and whose devotion to his family seemed very genuine. There was a touching scene at the beginning in which he took a garden stroll with his teenage son Brooklyn and asked him to take care of the others while he was away – though even here you couldn't help reflecting that surely there was an entourage of paid helpers to perform such tasks.

And this overlong film's best soundbite came at the start, with Victoria fretting about what calamitous effect the Brazilian climate might have on her hubby's locks. "I can't even go to humid countries because of my hair," she told him. Clearly, it's a hard life for some people.

But back to the beautiful game, specifically to Lineker in Brazil (BBC1), which was helpfully subtitled 'The Beautiful Game'. And just in case we were in any doubt about the nature of the country in which Gary found himself, he assured us at the outset that it was "the home of the beautiful game".

But not only was it the home of the beautiful game, it was also, Gary assured us, "a tropical wonderland" and his "mission" there was "to explore the origins of Brazil's beautiful game". Enough is enough, Gary.

Interviewee Michael Palin was a dab hand at the stereotypes, too. Brazil was "just dazzling", he told Gary, while its inhabitants were equally amazing. "They love life," he revealed, before sheepishly adding "That's a terrible old cliche but it's true".

The film got a bit more interesting after that even if Gary, who's not exactly the Jeremy Paxman of football coverage, got nothing out of his bland interview with Pele and not a lot, either, out of Ronaldo – the Brazilian one, that is, for readers under 30.

I learned more about the place, if not the football, from Welcome to Rio, which ended its three-week run on BBC2. But the voice-over commentary from Cleo Locos was weird. It was "We" this and "We" that throughout the series, as in this week's "We're surviving on our wits".

You'd think she was living a life of terror in a dodgy favela when in fact her Greek father and English mother brought her from Rio to London when she was a child and she's spent her whole acting and producing career in Britain. Indeed, apart from its similar title, this bore no relation to the superb 2010 series, Welcome to Lagos, which was genuinely eye-opening. Here, though, the tone was so determinedly upbeat that you had the distinct sense of social and economic problems being glossed over.

To coincide with the last instalment of The Savage Eye (RTE2), creator David McSavage this week released a YouTube video of a sketch removed from an earlier episode by the national broadcaster. Parodying a Diet Coke ad, this featured three nuns ogling a well-toned, loin-clothed Christ figure carrying a cross. I thought it silly rather than funny or transgressive. Trust RTE, though, to get all in a lather about a skit that might offend conservative Catholics while blithely allowing child actors to voice violent sexual threats in an earlier McSavage sketch.

How depressing that, despite seemingly unending revelations of clerical abuse in Ireland, RTE is still timidly tipping its forelock to a disgraced church.

Are we witnessing the emergence of a new Eamon?

In The Meaning of Life (RTE1), broadcaster and columnist Eamon Dunphy cried when recalling how his parents faced eviction.

Then he cried when telling how a bigoted priest tried to deter him from marrying his Protestant first wife.

A little later, while talking about spirituality, he cried once more.

Thankfully, Miriam O'Callaghan wasn't in the studio to wheedle even more tears from him, though it was obvious that we were witnessing a different Eamon to the man who had savaged everyone from Jack Charlton and John Hume to Seamus Heaney and Roddy Doyle.

The new Eamon is more caring, but the old one was more fun. Maybe he'll be back during the World Cup.

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