national Arts Festival Banner

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


What I most enjoyed about the movie is its cheerful sense of good humour. (Review by Patrick Compton - 8)

The portrayal of professional sport rarely comes off well in feature films, because actors generally can’t fake sporting excellence convincingly, but happily this engaging movie about the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is an exception.

In large part this is because there isn’t much “live” tennis on the screen. This movie is more about King’s life off the court, in particular her role as the flag bearer for equal pay – and respect – for women in the game as well as a major change in her personal life when she began to acknowledge that she was gay.

The former drama pits King against the male chauvinist bosses of the world game who paid women a pittance compared to the men. This led to King leading the breakaway Women’s Tennis Association which, initially, was more about respect than dollars. In hindsight, this is a battle that has yet to be conclusively won, although significant progress has been made.

This battle between men and women was perfectly distilled in the famous match between King and the self-proclaimed “male chauvinist pig”, Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon and US Open champion, who wanted to prove that men were not only better tennis players (and therefore deserving of more prize money) but that women belonged in the kitchen and the bedroom.

The game, one of the most famous events of its kind, was screened live on national TV in front of a packed Houston Astrodome.

On the personal front, although King was married to a “nice guy”, she discovered that she was falling in love with her hairdresser, Marilyn Burnett (an excellent performance by Andrea Riseborough). This, of course, brings its own joys and tensions that feed in nicely to the movie’s overall feminist theme.

What I most enjoyed about the movie is its cheerful sense of good humour. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and joint directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton invariably make their points with a smile on their faces, thankfully eschewing stridency. The casting of Carell is key to the movie’s tone. Although he is clearly a dinosaur, Carell gets into Riggs’s gambling persona with a degree of sympathy and the film-makers follow him right along, presenting him as something of an amiable jokester with Stone playing the straight role opposite him.

The character who is least attractive, in fact, is Margaret Court, then the women’s top-ranked player, who is disgusted by what she suspects is King’s sexuality. Court is Riggs’s first victim in the “Battle of the Sexes” matches that builds up to the climactic clash in Houston.

Battle of the Sexes opened in Durban on December 1. – Patrick Compton