King Richard

By Joanna Langfield

Yes, it’s a crowd pleaser and you can count me in as very much part of the crowd.

This story of the iconic Venus and Serena Williams’ beginnings, being taught tennis on the broken courts of Compton by their determined father, is not a fancy, artsy movie. It doesn’t try to be. And it doesn’t have to be. Because the story of how Richard Willams and his wife Oracene raised their girls, and made two of them worldwide phenoms, is magic enough. And while this against-all-odds tale is inspiring, it never overplays its hand in that arena, making sure this is a joyous watch. And I found myself, more than a few times, thinking, “I love this movie”.

The heart of the story, and the film, is assured in Will Smith’s wonderful performance, showing us the determination, grit and obstinacy the world has heard so much about. While the script is pretty uncritical of the man, Smith allows some distance from that, giving a peek at some of what made Richard a frustrating but undeniable genius. It’s a treat watching this Prince grow here into a King. But, especially for those of us tennis fans who’ve been following the sisters’ careers, there are other bonuses. We’ve heard about the legendary competitive love between the girls, but while Serena has gone on to grab more headlines, the film, chronologically correctly, focuses more on Venus, who was the first to hit the national stage professionally. While she is known as the quieter of the two, we get to see here how strong and focused she has been since an early age, attributes that have served her well throughout her career both on and off the court. And we also meet the girls’ mother, shown and beautifully portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis, as a person whose presence was just as crucial and essential in raising the family as was the husband who made sure he got so much glory.