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:: Bend It Like Beckham

Having a name like Beckham in the title gives immediate world focus, especially on the back of the recent World Cup. David Beckham is a football icon and it’s an interesting reference to a cheerful, upbeat film about a young Indian girl who wants to emulate her sporting hero. With a likeable cast and the use of comedy to explore social and family issues, writer-director Gurinder Chadha hits on what it means to be young, female and sporty in modern Britain.

Jess (Parminder Nagra) is a teenager and loves football. Her room is adorned with pictures of David Beckham and she wears his number when playing in the park with her friends. She can mix it with the boys with her level of skill too. Jules (Keira Knightley) is a member of the local girls’ football team. She spots Jess in the park and suggests that she comes and plays with the team in competition. Jess is a person who does her best to stay clear of her parents’ traditional Hindu lifestyle. Naturally, her parents don’t approve of her joining a football team. Therefore, Jess needs to keep her training and playing a secret. Jules’ mother (Juliet Stevenson) plays a good role. With her daughter playing football, wearing tracksuit pants, and not having a boyfriend, she convinces herself that her daughter is a lesbian. It sets the scene for some amusing moments. In actual fact, Jess and Jules both share an affinity for their male coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Things soon reach a head.

Complicating things for Jess is the fact that her sister is getting married on the same day as an all-important final of the football team’s competition. Jess is desperately keen to play because an American talent scout will be present.

There are numerous clever lines in this engaging film. As it reaches the final scenes, we learn different things about the role of the family, the independence of young people, and how good the filmmaking is. Gurinder Chadha makes a worthy effort in bringing these global themes around a global title. The irreverent humour co-exists alongside a palpable affection for the characters. Jess’s father could have easily been reduced to a non-figure in the scheme of things, yet we are made aware that it is his own nasty experience of racism in sport that makes him worry about his daughter’s career choice.

The colourful handling of the wedding scene shows Chadha’s flair for visuals and crowds. In fact, her mother and aunts appear in that scene. Watch for ex-All Saints singer Shaznay Lewis in a small role as captain of the girls’ football team. The Beckhams appear briefly also. Parminder Nagra is wonderful in the lead role. She shows the emotion in being the heartbeat of the story. She is also very convincing as a football player. Her acting future looks very bright.

Overall, much will be done for women’s football and Gurinder Chadha demonstrates a marked ability to use honest and balanced drama with humour to give a warm environment. A couple of issues such as racism and sexual preferences are raised by implication, something that Chadha was keen to touch on. “Bend It Like Beckham” will have worldwide appeal, which it deserves as it is one of the best British films in recent history.

Screening on general release.