Cinema: King Richard, very much the authorised version

King Richard (12A) (145 mins), Cineworld Cinemas.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 5:05 am
King Richard - Warner Bros
King Richard - Warner Bros

Another week, another film about recent events and still-living people which inevitably leaves you feeling just a little uneasy.

But while Spencer was an awkward film because it was so clearly and so obviously so utterly unapproved by anyone depicted, King Richard creates exactly the same problem for exactly the opposite reason.

With Venus and Serena Williams listed as executive producers, this is the story of their early lives exactly how they want us to see it.

Which obviously isn’t in itself a reason to doubt its veracity, but you do wonder where any objectivity might sit.

In truth, they are bit part players in the tale of their father, the King Richard of the title, though it’s not a title he’s ever given in the film.

And goodness, is this the world’s pushiest dad? For all the right reasons, though.

Richard is determined that his large family, growing up in Compton, California, isn’t going to end up on the streets dealing drugs. And that’s why he writes his plan, his unshakeable guide to just how he is going to bring them up, particularly Venus and Serena, in whom he rightly senses something very special.

They clearly aren’t stony-broke, but they certainly don’t have access to the kind of quality tennis courts they need if they are going to progress from the very lowest level of the game – which is why Richard touts them to potential trainers with his own home-made advertising brochure, detailing the return any potential trainers would get on his genius daughters: rightly, he predicts that Venus will be world number one; rightly, he predicts that Serena will be arguably the world’s greatest ever female tennis player.

For Richard it’s all about getting the world to wake up to their destiny and getting the world to collaborate in realising it.

But this is where his cussedness creeps in. It’s absolutely on Richard’s terms.

Repeatedly they seem on the verge of a breakthrough, but Richard vetoes it if it’s not exactly according to “The Plan.”

He’s an infuriating character with a ready wit and a will of iron, beautifully, richly played by Will Smith; opposite him Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams and Demi Singleton as Serena Williams give hugely engaging performances.

The tennis sequences are superbly done – and we are made to feel we are investing almost as much in the girls as Richard is.

He is determined that they will win, but determined that they will win with humility – and you feel the outrage as Venus comes up against appalling gamesmanship in a crucial match.

It’s compelling, inspirational stuff.

But it is also their version. Just what might a more dispassionate version have also included?

And in its determination to underline that this is an epic tale, director Reinaldo Marcus Green allows himself to make a film which is far, far too long. A better film would have been half an hour shorter.

Even so, it’s not a film that you will regret watching.