Battle of the Sexes
dir Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
scr Simon Beaufoy
prd Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Robert Graf
with Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Austin Stowell, Elisabeth Shue, Alan Cumming, Jessica McNamee, Natalie Morales, Eric Christian Olsen, Fred Armisen
release US 29.Sep.17, UK 24.Nov.17
17/UK Fox 2h01
Battle of the Sexes
Playing it up for the cameras: Stone and Carell

riseborough silverman pullman
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Battle of the Sexes Emma Stone and Steve Carell are simply terrific in this dramatisation of the events leading up to the eponymous epic showdown between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973. Much more than a re-enactment of the match, this is a biopic exploring what drives someone at this level of sport and fame. And it's assembled with a steady stream of knowing wit that keeps the audience engaged.

As America's top female player, Billie Jean (Stone) takes on the head of the tennis association (Pullman), demanding an increase from an eighth of what the men are paid. When he refuses, Billie Jean and her publicist (Silverman) launch a rival women's league. Meanwhile, retired star Bobby (Carell) is looking for something to bet on, and decides to take on this women's movement by challenging them to a match. He beats Australian champion Margaret Court (McNamee) in straight sets, proving his point. But Billie Jean won't take that lying down.

Writer Beaufoy and directors Dayton and Faris pack quite a lot into these two hours, exploring the private and public sides of both King and Riggs. As she challenges the status quo, King is discovering a romantic connection with her hairdresser (Riseborough), questioning her marriage to Larry (Stowell). And Riggs is grappling with the gambling addiction that has jeopardised his marriage to Priscilla (Shue). There's also a superb depiction of the players' camaraderie, plus knowing comical schtick with King's understanding stylist (Cumming).

Each performance is sparky, bringing so much attitude that each actor gets to be a scene-stealer. Stone and Carell find a rich range of textures, creating two contenders who are made for each other: determined, talented and gifted at both maintaining focus and channeling their emotions into their sport. But it's their personal journeys that provide a connection for the viewer, and their offhanded humour that makes them both loveable.

Amid the entertaining interaction, the film makes its point without equivocation: women who sell as many tickets as men should be earning the same paycheque. Hearing Pullman's character casually spout sexist comments seems like something from a bygone era, but the attitudes haven't changed much. It may no longer be cool to be a self-proclaimed "male chauvinist pig", but the same bigotry still runs through Western society. This clever film vividly reminds us that, nearly 45 years ago, King challenged this head-on and won her battle. But the war is still being fought.

cert 12 themes, innuendo 6.Oct.17 lff

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall