Of all the #hashtagged protests and political movements that happened in 2020, Free Britney is probably the one most likely to have slipped under your radar. But after watching this (much talked-about) documentary film, you could well find yourself out on those streets, waving a sign and chanting in the name of a 2000s pop star. Well, maybe post-lockdown anyway…
Watching this doc blow up online, Sky quickly bought the rights and now those of us who didn’t watch it via a dodgy link have a chance to understand the outrage.
And having watched this, we really can understand it. This New York Times film explores the controversy surrounding the conservatorship of Britney Spears, which was given to her father Jamie after she was forcefully committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2008. We work through a mostly chronological account of her life; her humble upbringing and difficult relationship with her father; sudden fame; the marketing of her appearance; the scrutiny she faced from the press; the invasive and misogynistic questions from interviewers; the hounding by the paparazzi.
We hear from people who know and knew her during the time, as well as those who are campaigning for her freedom now, discussing the breakdown in Spears’s mental health and how her father took advantage of this, putting her under a conservatorship and continuing to work the singer for his own personal gain.
It’s a difficult watch and a heart-breaking look at how the media treats women in the spotlight and the cruel nature of celebrity culture, but what’s most fascinating about the film is that it might actually help her.Lucy Mangan in The Guardian calls this “a sobering look at sexism and celebrity,” but notes that the film “mostly pulled together the information already out there.” And the Independent’s Fiona Sturges agrees, saying that whilst it “asks serious questions about the way young women are treated as fair game by interviewers and those hoping to make a fast buck from a photo in a car park,” it “lacks hard evidence.” But it seems the heart-breaking nature of the film is unanimously agreed, with The Times’s Ed Potton saying: “this was not an easy watch… watched through a #MeToo prism, it was excruciating.”
First shown February 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.