Pelé: Review – a rousing but thoughtful portrait of a football legend

He's an emotional man, Pelé. Early on in this engrossing documentary we see him sobbing uncontrollably as he's carried from the pitch after steering Brazil to their first World Cup in 1958.

The now 80-year-old breaks down again as he talks us through the day that changed his life. When he gets to his final World Cup in 1970, the film-makers must have wished they'd brought a mop and bucket.

"You lose control, you can't explain it," he sniffs, remembering the jubilant fans in Mexico. And it's this raw emotion that defined his remarkable career.

When he scored that amazing goal in '58, Brazil was a rudderless country searching for a national identity. After one delightful chip, they were the land of flair, courage and athleticism. And a 17-year-old, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, was its figurehead.

The archive footage is a thrilling testament to his talent. But the film also explores the dark side of the Brazilian nationalism he unwittingly unleashed.

When Brazil's new president General Médici began murdering his rivals in 1968, Pelé was happy to meet and warmly embrace the despot.

"I love Pelé, says his old team-mate Caju as we see TV footage of the icon hugging the despot, "but that won't stop me criticising him".

Footage of Muhammad Ali denouncing the Vietnam War shows the kind of stand many Brazilians were hoping for. But perhaps that's a lot to expect from a young man who would risk torture and death if he turned his back on the regime.

Pelé remains unrepentant, claiming he did more for the Brazilian people on the pitch than he could have done in a prison cell.

Some sports documentaries get lost in the emotion, but film-makers David Tryhorn and Ben Nicholas keep their heads with a rousing but also thoughtful portrait of a genuine football legend.

Launches on Netflix globally on 23rd February 2021

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