Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Stars: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal
Released: 19th November 2021 (UK)
Richard Williams (Will Smith) is on a mission. Collecting stray tennis balls at country clubs and appealing to coaches to train his daughters, he arrives armed with homemade brochures and introductory videos. Laughed off and waved away, he departs still with a knowing smile. Richard’s daughters just so happen to be Venus and Serena Williams, and he is simply waiting for the world to catch up.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, and executive produced by Venus and Serena, King Richard is an intimate look behind the moulding of the Williams sisters. Going deeper than the Compton-to-the-tennis-court ‘Cinderella story’ many may think they are familiar with, the film instead delves into their father’s instrumental role in their legendary success. Both a heartfelt family drama and rousing biopic, this is a welcome return to form for Will Smith.
As the titular ‘King’, Richard rules the Williams household with a firm yet affectionate grip. Dealing in doctrines of discipline, planning and self-belief, he proudly declares himself to be in the ‘champion-raising business’. But as his daughters begin to dominate tennis at junior level and major coaches seek to impress their own distinguished training formula, Richard struggles to relinquish control. With punishing life experiences stemming from racial tension and familial strife, Richard has often found himself beaten down both physically and emotionally. It’s this pain that has formed an iron will to not only uplift his children, but ensure the world gives them the respect he himself could never command. Through Richard’s vulnerabilities, the film excels not only in portraying the immensely relatable notion of wanting to provide better lives for our children, but it strikes a nerve in giving insight into parenting Black children. With Richard desiring to insulate his daughters from a world that will hold them to a different set of rules and judgements – yet simultaneously get them ready to conquer it.
Will Smith is brilliantly cast, settling into a hybrid of disappearing into the role while being distinctly himself. Best exemplified as Richard battles coaches Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and Rick Macci (an always enjoyable Jon Bernthal) for supremacy. Unbothered by the opinions of others his blunt retorts are delivered in a manner that, although entirely serious, feel like the bold quips Smith is renowned for being uniquely able to pull off. With exceptional performances from Aunjanue Ellis as mother Brandi Williams, and both Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena; King Richard feels engaging and emotional from start to finish. A slick screenplay from Zack Baylin allows the audience to smirk and chuckle knowingly like time travellers who’ve bought early shares in Apple. We’ve seen the years of sporting dominance. We know Venus Williams won Wimbledon 5 times. We know Serena Williams has 23 grand slam titles and is often considered the greatest athlete ever. This hindsight enhances the viewing experience and creates a layer of amusement with each scene where the talent or impact of the sisters is undervalued. It allows us to have the wisdom Richard had all along.
A solid crowd pleaser that sticks to a traditional sports biopic formula but excels in all that entails, King Richard is a powerful ode to determination, that lets us know that these superstars didn’t succeed in spite of where they came from, but because of it.
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