In Depth

Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad documentary wins acclaim

Former England captain praised for 'moving' film chronicling his attempts to come to terms with the death of his wife

Former footballer Rio Ferdinand has won universal acclaim for his documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, which chronicles his attempts to come to terms with the death of his wife Rebecca, who died of cancer in 2015, at the age of 34. 

In the film, which was shown on BBC1 this week, the one-time England captain was seen grappling with his own emotions while worrying about those of his four children. 

The result was an "extraordinarily brave and moving" piece of television, says Andrew Billen of The Times.

Sam Woollaston of The Guardian highlights the bleakness of the backdrop. 

"It's usually so much fun snooping around a footballer's house on television, seeing where all that money goes," he says, but the most "striking feature" about Ferdinand's home was "its sadness and silence".

He also praises the former West Ham, Leeds and Manchester United star for freely admitting he needed help with his emotions.

"Of course, Rio Ferdinand is not the only grieving spouse in the country," says Woollaston. "But he is a high-profile one, a man, and from a profession not known for wearing its heart on its sleeve (except on the pitch). This is a bold and important thing to do. Crying might be less of a taboo these days... but talking is still tough. Men are only half as likely to get counselling help as women are."

This was "a film about the male of the species and how he reacts to loss", says Alan Tyers of the Daily Telegraph.

Not all men are sportsmen, he adds, but "do we not as a gender all struggle to some degree with the 'dressing room' idea of being the strong, silent rock?"

He continues: "Rio has had the role-model millstone hung around his neck more than most, a most unfair label in my opinion, as if a young guy who is good at running around and kicking footballs has any obligation whatsoever to function as the nation's moral compass. In this film, though, he embodies a leadership quality and wisdom, bitterly and cruelly hard-won though they have been, that might perhaps demonstrate to others in pain that it is not a failure to need help or to ask for it."

In the film, while meeting other bereaved fathers and children, Ferdinand claimed he lacked emotional intelligence – something with which Billen of the Times disagrees. "What was striking was how intelligent he was about his supposed lack of emotional intelligence," he says.

"Rebecca had told her mother that she had no worries about the children because she knew Rio would be an excellent mother and father," adds the journalist. "She was right."

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