Bend it Like Beckham: The football comedy that launched Keira Knightley's career

Bend It Like Beckham helped launch the careers of stars Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley, who starred as two football-obsessed teenagers who must overcome obstacles to play the game they love.

The 2002 romantic-comedy earned over $76 million after being made for just $6m, and went on to receive a BAFTA nomination and become a West End musical. 

Despite coming out over 15 years ago, Bend it Like Beckham is still popular today, and is on the UK curriculum for GCSE and A Level film studies, as well as the Irish Junior and Leaving Certificates.

With the movie still as popular as ever, Goal takes a look back at a modern football film that continues to be both entertaining and educational.

WHAT IS BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM?

Parminder Nagra Jonathan Rhys Meyers Bend It Like Beckham 20082002

Unlike many films about football – and particularly comedy films about football – it received positive reviews from critics, with director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha praised for her handling of social and cultural aspects surrounding Nagra’s character, Jess, who is the daughter of Punjabi Sikhs and goes against their wishes to play football for the local team.

While secretly playing football with her friend in the park, Jess is spotted by Jules (Keira Knightley) who invites her to try out for the Hounslow Harriers. She impresses coach Joe (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and wins a place in the team.

However, like all sports films, there is a huge dilemma for our hero, with Jess’s parents finding out about her football secret as her sister’s wedding day approaches. In an amazing coincidence which only ever seems to happen in movies, the wedding falls on the same day as the football final, leaving Jess with a huge dilemma. Which will she choose?

We won’t spoil the film for you, you’ll have to watch it and find out.

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM FOOTBALLERS AND CAST

Parminder Nagra Sepp Blatter FIFA Presidential Award 2002

Before he was King Henry VIII in the Tudors or a Golden Globe-winning Elvis, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was Hounslow Harriers head coach Joe, while Keira Knightley had previously starred in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, but was cast in that due to her resemblance to star Natalie Portman. Bend It Like Beckham helped boost her career, going on to appear in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and then on to receive multiple Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for films such as Atonement, Pride & Prejudice and the Imitation Game.

Parminder Nagra has also had an excellent career following her appearance as Jessminder ‘Jess’ Bhamra. Following her role in the movie, she became the first woman to win the FIFA Presidential Award in 2002. Nagra went on to become a main cast member in medical drama ER, appearing in 129 episodes, and was also a series regular in the Blacklist, and was recently in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Archie Panjabi played Jess’s sister Pinky, and has gone on to win an Emmy award for her portrayal of Kalinda Sharma in The Good Wife. Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan starred as Jess’s parents, while Juliet Stevenson was Jules’ mother. All Saints singer Shaznay Lewis also had a role in the film as a player for the Hounslow Harriers.

What footballers were in Bend It Like Beckham?

One of the key scenes in the film involves Jess taking a free-kick in the style of the title character, and former England international David Beckham appears in the movie alongside wife Victoria in a short scene. In fact, Victoria even had a song on the film’s soundtrack, which also includes songs from Curtis Mayfield, Blondie and Basement Jaxx.

Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and John Barnes all feature in the film, while BBC commentator John Motson provided the voiceover when the movie was brought to the theatre for its West End run beginning in 2015.

Footballer Character
David Beckham Himself
Gary Lineker Himself
Alan Hansen Himself
John Barnes Himself

Who played the parts of the footballers in Bend it Like Beckham?

In order to make the football scenes seem as realistic as possible, director Chadha sought assistance from the Football Association and ended up casting players from local school teams. Simon Clifford was hired to help with the ‘football choreography’ in the film, having previously worked on There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble, a 2000 film about a young boy who dreams of playing for Manchester City.

In one part of the film, the girls travel to Germany to take on a team there. Chadha recalls how the actresses gave everything they could to beat the German side, and were more like real footballers than people playing the parts: “They played and felt like a proper team that had been playing for years together.

“They more than held their own in a match that was extremely intense. Once I got the shots I needed, I’d yell cut but no one would stop playing. The girls refused to lose, they had completely forgotten the script and they begged me to let them keep playing until they could give the German side a good stuffing. The most bizarre thing was how the crew went berserk supporting our girls against the German girls!”

WHAT PITCH WAS USED IN BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM?

Bend it Like Beckham still

As Bend It Like Beckham does not feature the Hounslow Harriers going all the way to the Women’s FA Cup final or something similar, no huge stadium was needed for filming. As a result, the football scenes took place at the home of Yeading FC in west London.

Yeading FC are a team that no longer exist, having been founded in 1960 and dissolved in 2007. They last played in the Conference South, coming 16th in 2006-07 before they merged with another club from the same division to become Hayes and Yeading United. Unfortunately, they were relegated at the end of the 2016-17 season and now find themselves in the Southern League Division One East, which is in the eighth tier of the English football pyramid.

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