King Richard: Film Review

Warner Bros.

Will Smith has become a firm favourite for a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance as Venus and Serena Williams‘ father Richard Williams in the new biographical drama King Richard – and he thoroughly deserves it.

The film begins in Compton, California, and follows Richard (Smith) as he trains his young girls Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) on their local rundown tennis court. While he’s confident in his coaching skills, he’s aware that he needs help to take them to the next level – but this is easier said than done. The sport is extremely white and privileged so Richard has to keep persevering to find someone who would coach both of his Black daughters for free. Their fate finally seems to change when Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) agrees to relocate the whole family to Florida so Venus and Serena, then 10 and nine, can join his academy. But it’s not plain sailing from there as Richard’s stubbornness and unconventional approach to his daughters’ career paths means he regularly butts heads with Macci.

I thought it was strange to focus a movie biopic on Richard rather than his world champion daughters and tell the story of their early beginnings through his lens. Don’t get me wrong though – he’s still a worthy subject. He really slogged away to get his girls out of Compton and turn them into the extraordinary athletes he knew they could be from a very early age. His patience and determination in the face of resistance and adversity are commendable and you have to praise how he kept plugging away, knowing his hard work would one day pay off. You won’t like him the whole way though – he’s stubborn, egotistical and overbearing and it’s infuriating watching him go against professional advice and make big decisions that could be detrimental to his daughters’ careers.

Smith excels in the role and this is the best he’s been in years. He does well with Richard’s particular accent and sinks his teeth into this complex character, who could have been written off simply as an overbearing pain in the butt, but thankfully the script allows for more nuance. I would not be surprised if he was nominated for this performance, although I’m not sure if he’ll win.

Although the title might suggest otherwise, this isn’t just the Richard show as it is also heavily focussed on Venus. Smith has fantastic support from Sidney, who has a lot to do in her performance – her tennis skills look convincing and she was feisty when standing up to her father. She ended up being the revelation of the film, particularly during the crowd-pleasing finale. Serena lives in Venus’ shadow during this movie and I would have liked to see her do more. Aunjanue Ellis might also get a supporting actress mention as Oracene ‘Brandy’ Price, the girls’ mother. She doesn’t put up with Richard’s crap and makes sure he knows his place- when she needs to. There is one scene set in a kitchen in which she gives him a big talking to and it’s fantastic. I must also mention Bernthal as he doesn’t let the side down as the often exasperated Macci.

King Richard, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, follows the familiar biopic beats and doesn’t exactly break the mould but the story is so interesting and inspirational that it doesn’t really matter. You can’t beat seeing the underdog coming out on top! It’s got some comedy, lots of heart, the tennis matches are captivating and the ending gave me tears.

In cinemas Friday 19th November

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Miss Virginia: Film Review

Miss Virginia

I love watching films that shine a light on incredible real-life people I didn’t know anything about so I was excited to learn more about educational campaigner Virginia Walden in Miss Virginia.

The film charts how single mum Walden (Uzo Aduba) came to be a political force for children’s education in Washington D.C. Her determination to fight for underprivileged children’s access to scholarships for private school was borne out of a concern for her 15-year-old son James (Niles Fitch), who kept bunking off his underfunded public school. Implementing such a change is more straightforward in other cities but in D.C. the fight needs to go through Congress, making her campaign much more difficult.

Aduba, who recently won an Emmy for playing Shirley Chisholm in Mrs. America, gives another impressive performance as another real-life formidable woman, but she is held back by the thin and cliched script and so isn’t quite able to do Walden the justice she deserves.

The film was informative and enlightening to me but it felt all very surface level – Walden did this and then she did this – and I didn’t feel like I got to know or understand the main players. I wanted more depth about Walden, her main champion, Congressman Clifford Williams (Matthew Modine), and her main rival, local politician Lorraine Townsend (Aunjanue Ellis).

Miss Virginia is an easy enough watch and the ending will lift your spirits, but I just wish this biopic wasn’t so shallow and by-the-numbers.

Available on digital HD from Monday 5th October

Rating: 3 out of 5.