Film Review: King Richard – London Film Festival 2021

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer:  Zach Baylin

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

The sports movie loves a maverick, someone prepared to throw out the rule book on their way to unimaginable greatness. There will be trials and tribulations along the way, but ultimately inventiveness and determination will triumph. And so it proves in Zach Baylin and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard, one of the last Headline Galas at the London Film Festival, a movie that looks behind the sports star for another classic film trope, the pushy parent.

Playing in Compton on barely used community courts, Richard Williams has a plan for his two children, a programme that will make them both the greatest tennis stars the world has ever seen. As Richard hustles to find them a coach, Venus and Serena meet the very best in American professional tennis, but Richard is determined they will have a childhood and an education before playing proper matches; he has a plan.

King Richard is everything you could want from a sports movie; there are plenty of sequences featuring tense, competitive exchanges and practices, a touch of flamboyance as the wide-eyed heroes confront the glamour of the professional tennis circuit for the first time, and plenty of emotional drama within the Williams family managing the consequences of Richard’s decision-making, leaving his daughters and his wife frustrated.

Like Valerie Faris’ story of the exhibition match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the focus is on the oddball which offers plenty of opportunity for comedy as Richard refuses to let his girls follow the usual tennis pro path through junior competition. As plenty of coaches throw their hands up in despair, Baylin and Green use their film to ask whether Richard, like Riggs, is looking for self-publicity and whether his famous ‘plan’ is anything more than a pipe dream.

And while Richard is shown as a multi-dimensional character whose love for his children is sometimes overridden by a stubbornness and a refusal to listen to anyone whether tennis professionals or his own family, we all know how this ends and that Richard’s faith in his daughters and ultimately in himself will be fully vindicated. And King Richard is no worse for it – win or lose is never really the point of the sports movie, it’s the belief and determination on the way that make the drama.

Will Smith delivers a real character piece here, giving Richard plenty of quirks but with a devotion to his family that overrides everything. He gives Richard a Teflon coating, listening intently to opposition but you can almost see the words bouncing off him like an unreturnable Williams serve and while he almost recognises the division it causes with his frustrated wife or the older sister Venus who is the primary focus of Baylin’s screenplay, his mission is firm in his mind.

Saniyya Sidney gives Venus a quiet brilliance, the quieter of the two sisters but nonetheless assured of her prowess on the court, prepared to follow her father until aged 14 she decides to take some control of her career. Demi Singleton’s Serena is slightly overshadowed, determined to prove she’s just as talented as her sister but forced, for now, into second place which brings out a hint of resentment in Singleton’s performance but still supportive of Venus’s triumphs as she bides her time.

At 2 hours and 10 minutes, King Richard is a touch overlong with a few repetitive scenes that don’t advance the plot, but Green maintains a fairly brisk pace throughout, creating time for the Williams family to emerge as individuals, providing an origins story for a now legendary sporting family and their maverick father whose plan came true.

King Richard is screening at the London Film Festival.

The Reviews Hub Score:


The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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