Sam Leith Sam Leith

Michelle Mone and the rise of the ‘fight back’ documentary

Michelle Mone (Credit: Getty images)

You can’t turn on the telly or fire up the internet these days without stumbling across some celebrity or other baring their soul in a glossily produced documentary. Three hours, was it, of David Beckham – taking us from talented nipper playing keepy-uppy to grizzled paterfamilias wiping down his barbecue in wistful retirement? Or Renaissance: A Film, which showed Beyonce as flawed and human in the same way and with much the same aim as the Bible shows Jesus Christ as flawed and human. Or there was that interminable Robbie Williams doc, in which – for no reason that was completely obvious – he spent about four hours sitting glumly in his underpants in front of his MacBook, watching footage of his own earlier career. 

The trade-off here is that in the interests of access these supposed documentaries are blurring the line between telly journalism and PR promo. The Beckham film jiggled the timeline here and there, and our hero’s alleged extramarital affair with Rebecca Loos was treated (without any direct reference to it being made) like some sort of natural disaster sent to test this blameless family man. The Beyonce documentary, meanwhile, made much of her debt to the gay community, but didn’t mention her taking tens of millions of dollars to play in Dubai, where they chuck gay people in jail. I don‘t suppose most Beyonce and Beckham fans will have noticed, still less minded, that these documentaries were made by the subjects’ own production companies. 

A self-exculpatory documentary on YouTube just doesn’t have quite the cachet of an international co-pro with Netflix

Well, maybe one of those viewers will have noticed. One imagines that viewer, wrapped huffily in an ermine robe on the sofa at home, in front of a vast LCD television. One sees her watching how glorious Beyonce looked in all her close-ups, and what a flattering portrait it painted of a cruelly traduced public woman, and one imagines a little lightbulb going off above her expensive hairdo.

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