Rare treat: North Korea screens `Bend it Like Beckham`

The 2002 film starring Jonathan Rhys Myers, Parminder Nagra aired on Dec 26.

Seoul: North Koreans got a rare treat this week: a state TV broadcast of the British soccer film `Bend it Like Beckham`.

The 2002 film starring Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Myers and Parminder Nagra aired on December 26 — a break from the regular programming of news, documentaries and soap operas in North Korea, where Western films are largely off limits.

"This was the first Western film to be broadcast on North Korean TV, and as well as football covered issues such as multiculturalism, equality and tolerance," British Ambassador Peter Hughes said from Pyongyang, where his embassy helped arranged the Boxing Day broadcast.

Football is extremely popular in North Korea, which sent its men to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and whose women`s team is a regional powerhouse.

Britain has been seeking to reach out to North Koreans through football, a sport that has connected the two nations since North Korea first sent a team to the World Cup in England in 1966.

Earlier in the year, the Middlesbrough Ladies Football Team travelled to Pyongyang to play North Korean clubs.

"The UK advocates a policy of engagement with North Korea because not engaging means not having any influence, and because engagement has the potential to catalyse change," he said in an e-mail interview.

Hughes said he watched the film in Pyongyang. The film that aired appeared to be an edited version.

`Bend it Like Beckham`, by director Gurinder Chadha, tells the story of a British Asian teen struggling with family pressures and cultural expectations as she plays the sport she loves and works to fulfil her dream of competing in the United States.

"Apparently the people were amazed that a Western film was shown, and there has been a buzz around the country as the people have talked about the film and its content," Hughes said.

In a tweet on Thursday, British Ambassador to South Korea, Martin Uden, praised his counterparts at the British embassy in Pyongyang for arranging the broadcast.

"Happy Christmas in Pyongyang. On 26/12 Bend it like Beckham was 1st ever western-made film to air on TV. Well done to UK Embassy 4 arranging," he wrote.

Bureau Report