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King Richard review – Will Smith serves up tennis stardom for Venus and Serena

sportsman

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Smith plays Richard Williams, the driven father of the US sporting sisters, in this well-crafted, authorised version of their story

Some differing British and American attitudes to success are on show at this year’s London film festival. The Phantom of the Open is the story of a real-life amateur Brit golfer who fought his way up to become the world’s most adorable loser. King Richard, by contrast, is the story of a real-life amateur US tennis coach who fought his way up to help his daughters become the world’s most sensational winners.

Will Smith is never seen in long trousers in this film, only tennis shorts. He plays the 24/7-committed, fanatically focused and demanding Richard Williams, renowned father of Venus and Serena Williams. This is the man who, by sheer force of will, took his daughters and the rest of his family straight out of Compton and into the sunlit uplands of multimillion-dollar pro-sports triumph, along the way battling snobbery and racism. White parents on the junior circuit wrongly call his girls’ shots out and white sports agents smilingly tell Richard what he’s done with Venus and Serena is “incredible” while lowballing him with derisory offers. (In real life, Richard has had some things to say about the gamesmanship of white tennis players up against his daughters in their adult glory, but the film soft-pedals this.) Young Venus and Serena are played, respectively, with sympathy and charm by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton; Aunjanue Ellis is their mother, Brandi, and Jon Bernthal their hyperactive coach Rick Macci, permanently exasperated by Richard’s capricious demands.

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