- The sports comedy “Bend It Like Beckham” was an instant hit after its 2002 release.
- David Beckham happily approved of his name being used in the film, but the title was changed for different international releases.
- Stars Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra had to do months of soccer training before filming, but lots of the other actors were professional players.
- The film is semi-autobiographical, according to writer/director Gurinder Chadha, who used her own family members as extras.
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It also broke down barriers by putting young women, and young women of colour, in star athlete roles, and it’s striking how timely the movie still feels 18 years later. The movie recently hit Disney Plus, so old fans can rewatch it to their hearts’ content, and a new generation of viewers can fall in love with the film.
In honour of its streaming release, read on for 16 fun facts that even die-hard fans may not know about “Bend It Like Beckham.”
The production staff was worried that people wouldn’t get the title in the US.
“Bend It Like Beckham” was created by British writer/director Gurinder Chadha, and the film was first released in the UK, so there were some concerns that American audiences wouldn’t understand the film’s title.
The filmmakers weren’t sure if they would get what it meant to “bend” a soccer ball or know who David Beckham was – he hadn’t yet gained the American pop-culture status he has today.
According to ESPN, the movie’s US title was almost changed to “Move It Like Mia,” in reference to American professional soccer player Mia Hamm. Director Gurinder Chadha told the “Burn It All Down” podcast in 2019 that “Soccer and Me” was also considered.
But in the end, Chadha pushed for keeping “Bend It Like Beckham,” and she was ultimately successful.
In Germany, however, the film’s title did change.
For its German release, the film changed its name to “Kick It Like Beckham” to avoid any confusion about what “bending” meant.
Bending is a signature skill of Beckham’s where he can kick the ball so it curves around obstacles and is harder for a goalie to track. But they decided to change the word to “kicking” in the title to try and reach a wider audience.
According to Chadha, the title is about more than just soccer.
In a 2003 interview with BlackFilm, Chadha said that the title works on more than one level – which is why she was so adamant about keeping it for the international releases.
Apart from being a reference to pro footballer Beckham, who she describes as the “Michael Jordan of soccer in England,” it’s also a metaphor for achieving life goals.
“[It’s a] great metaphor for a lot of us, especially girls. We can see our goal but instead of going straight there, we too have to twist and bend the rules sometimes to get what we want.”
She elaborated in her “Burn It All Down” interview, saying, “… I never played soccer, but I understood the metaphor of it and for me it was a film about people breaking the rules, but actually you’re bending the rules.”
She continued, “So what I did my whole life was bend the rules, and there were expectations of how I should behave as girl, as an Indian girl, and then a woman. I kept trying to duck and dive that to be who I am.”
Beckham let the movie use his name to promote women’s soccer.
Chadha told The Telegraph in 2015 that Beckham agreed to let the film use his name and likeness because he’s a big fan of supporting girls’ and women’s soccer.
“He said, ‘I wholeheartedly support this because I support girls’ football and want families to come to matches,'” Chadha told the publication.
Chadha wasn’t a soccer expert when she created the film.
She said that she even used to write placeholders in the script like, “Jargon jargon football jargon.”
The lead actors spent months in soccer training to prepare for their roles.
Knightley (who played Jules) told interview magazine in 2012 that she and Nagra (who played Jess) had 20 weeks of rigorous soccer practice before filming.
According to ESPN, famed English coach Simon Clifford led their training, and he was convinced that Knightley was such a natural she could have gone professional.
“If I’d trained her from the age of 10 or 11, without a shadow of a doubt Keira could have been a pro,” he said.
Knightley had, in fact, played soccer in primary school, but she told Interview that her team “never actually scored a goal. We only kicked people.”
Nagra did the “bending” all on her own — and on the first take.
All that soccer training paid off for Nagra because she didn’t end up having to use a professional stand-in or body double for the film. She learned how to bend the ball herself.
The scene where Jess is hanging up the laundry in the backyard was the first soccer sequence that was shot, and according to Chadha, Nagra was able to get the kick right on the first take.
“Everybody jumped up and cheered. It was absolutely fantastic,” Chadha said in a director’s commentary clip from Fox Searchlight. “They were like, ‘Oh she can bend a ball. It’s not going to be a waste of time then.'”
Some of the other castmates were real soccer players.
Chadha told BlackFilm that, apart from Knightley, Nagra, and Tricia Marie “Shaznay” Lewis – who’s a member of the popular English-Canadian girl group All Saints – the film’s fictional Hounslow Harriers soccer team was composed mostly of players from real London football clubs.
Nagra worried her scar would keep her from getting the role.
Like her character, Nagra has a big scar on her leg, and initially, the actor was worried that she wouldn’t be cast in a role where she had to wear shorts because it would expose her injury.
Chadha told the “Burn It All Down” podcast that she remembered getting an email from Nagra’s agent that said, “… If she’s gonna be in shorts, we need you to know she’s got a huge burn down her leg. We didn’t want to tell you before in case that influenced your choice, but now we need to tell you.”
“I think they thought I was not gonna give her the role because of that,” the director said.
But Chadha had no problem adding her scar to the script. She even used the real story: Nagra burned herself as a child while trying to make beans on toast.
Chadha made two cameos in the movie.
“If you know my films you’ll know I always love a cameo,” the director recently wrote in a post on Facebook.
Chadha had two cameos in “Bend It Like Beckham.” In one scene, she played a jogger in the park who Jules and Jess run past, and in another, she was a guest at Jess’ sister’s wedding.
Many of Chadha’s family members also made appearances.
Chadha told the “Burn It All Down” podcast that she filled out the cast with people she knew, including her mum, aunts, and friends.
“I did really well on cheap extras,” she joked.
She went on to say, “… It was wonderful making the film in that part of the community, and we never knew it was going to be as successful as it was …”
The film is semi-autobiographical, and some characters are based on people from Chadha’s life.
For example, Jules’ mum is based on her friends’ mums growing up, and Jess’ strict Indian parents are based on her own mum and dad – especially the parts where Jess’ mum wants her to learn how to be a perfect Indian cook so she’ll find a nice husband.
Jess and Jules’ jersey numbers are significant.
Throughout the film, Jess wears the number seven, which was Beckham’s Manchester United/England number.
Jules wears Hamm’s number, nine, and she idolizes the pro American player in the film.
It was the first Western-made movie shown on TV in North Korea.
According to the BBC, the British embassy arranged for “Bend It Like Beckham” to be shown in North Korea in 2010 to mark the 10-year anniversary of the countries’ diplomatic ties – making it the first Western-made film to be broadcast in the country.
The film depicts interracial relationships, homosexuality, and open talks about religion, all of which were considered taboo topics in North Korea, so its airing was a big deal.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers was worried the movie would be terrible.
“Even in the beginning I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this,'” he said. “But I spoke to my brother and he said, ‘Do the film. Everybody’s going to love this.'”
The movie was adapted into a West End musical in 2015.
The show premiered in London’s West End, and it featured music by “Phantom of the Opera” lyricist Charles Hart and award-winning composer Howard Goodall.