MARIA DUARTE sees an engrossing film on tennis legend Billie Jean King’s battle with Bobby Riggs on and off court
Battle of the Sexes (12A) Directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton 4/5
IT MAY be 44 years since Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’s legendary tennis match — dubbed the Battle of the Sexes at the time — but the issues of gender inequality, sexism and misogyny that it highlighted are sadly still as relevant today.
That’s only too evident in this film, a crowd-pleasing but razor-sharp and socially pertinent comedy drama with ace performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell as King and Riggs. After her Oscar-winning turn in La La Land, Stone is virtually unrecognisable as she completely embodies the 29-year-old King in her look and mannerisms at one of the most pivotal times in her life.
She was fighting for equal prize money for women tennis players, coming to terms with her own sexuality and battling Riggs and his media circus. Carell is sublime as the pompous 55-year-old showman Riggs, a former Wimbledon and world number one. He believed that he could beat any woman tennis player and pitched the match as the “male chauvinist pig versus hairy-legged feminist.” He boasted of putting the “show” in “chauvinism,” saying that “the best way to handle women is to keep them pregnant and barefoot.”
Yet his wealthy wife, played superbly by Elisabeth Shue, reminds him of the irony that she, a woman, has been bankrolling his lifestyle.
But it’s the clashes between King and Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), one of the founders of the Association of Tennis Professionals, and his insidious sexist remarks as she demands equal money for women players that makes the skin crawl and want to shout at the big screen. As King points out, Riggs is all bravado and hot air while Kramer actually means it.
Kudos to Andrea Riseborough who delivers another quietly understated yet captivating performance as hair stylist Marilyn Barnett, King’s love interest, who made the tennis champion question her sexuality.
It’s a complex but hugely entertaining film and at times it’s like watching the real King and Riggs. In the process, it reminds you how far gender equality and politics still have to go.