Battle of the Sexes12¦ Blu-ray, DVD
It’s highly unusual for females participating in high-profiled sports to become household names. Try to think of world famous female footballers, rugby players, golfers etc. Not easy, right?
With names like Navratilova, Williams – Venus and Serena, Graf, Evert and Sharapova however, tennis doesn’t have that problem. Over the years, female players have attracted like-sized crowds that the men enjoy, particularly when it comes to the Grand Slam events. But this parity hasn’t been reflected in the winning purse, with the men’s prize being far more impressive than the women’s.
One player – a household name in her own right – challenged not only the system, but the opposite of sex: Billie Jean King.
In the sixties and seventies, there was only one woman on the tennis circuit that everyone had to beat – Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). King was a multiple Grand Slam winner, and one of the greatest exponents of the game, regardless of gender.
When Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), the head of the American LTA (Lawn Tennis Association), announced the details for a forthcoming tournament that, despite equal sales in tickets, had the women’s prize money at one-eighth that of the men’s, Billie Jean and her manager Gladys (Sarah Silverman) confronted him. The result? Billie Jean and a bunch of like-minded players break away and create their own tournament.
Robert Riggs (Steve Carell) was a professional tennis player who had been world number one in his day. Now, at the age of 55, he’s swept up in a gambling addiction, which his family life is suffering from. Although an addict, he was a pretty good gambler, and he saw a huge opportunity to make money from challenging the best female tennis player to a high-prized match.
Riggs had his sights set on one player – King – but could she be drawn into a spat on the court that would be promoted as the battle of the sexes?
Considering this exhibition match took place on 1973, it’s disturbing to see that very little has changed, and that equality between the sexes still seems some way off.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have taken this historical event and recalled it with a pretty light touch. Not only is shot with a seventies filter, but Carell gives yet another fine performance, imbued with a gentle comedic personality that skilfully falls short of being over the top.
It’s just as well, as Stone’s King, although well meaning, is most definitely on the dull side. Writer Simon Beaufoy focuses on her private life, in a bid to spice proceedings up presumably, and make her more interesting than she is, but it just gets in the way and fails to be all that interesting.
It’s a fascinating retelling of a remarkable event, but sadly serves a few double faults on the entertainment front.