King Richard

What a very likeable film this is. I fell under its spell very early on – it just hits a nice groove and never jolts out of it. As tennis players might call it, it’s in the zone.

The story of Richard Williams, the eccentric, determined, genius parent of tennis goddesses Venus and Serena Williams, it’s a film about a man with a plan and his absolute belief in sticking to it. Will Smith plays him perfectly and it’s a super performance that reaches quite deep to find the complexities while all the while remaining flattering.

But it’s the girls who win it for me, two gorgeous performances from Demi Singleton as Serena and Saniiya Sydney as the elder Venus, as well as little gem of a supporting turn from Aunjanue Ellis as their mother Oracine.

I was also very taken with the punchy terrier of a performance from Jon Bernthal as coach Rick Macci, so all round there was a lot to like here, even the tennis, which was remarkably well executed. If anything, there’s a bit too much tennis in the film and if it gets a bit stuck its in the details of Venus’ extended contract negotiations with Nike and in her climactic singles match against Aranxa Sanchez Vicario.

Of course, it’s all about Will Smith and Richard Williams and his dignity and determination to make it as a black man in a white world and as a father and a man. Smith makes him charismatic, powerful and charming but he’s also stubborn and ridiculous, although his girls never seem to see him that way.

One thing did disappoint me, and that was the film’s soundtrack – it’s set in the early 90s (the family watch news of the LA riots starting on the telly, one of their reasons for getting out of the city and finding a coach in Florida) and I’d have thought there’d be an occasion for some good old hip hop or RnB from that era. Instead there’s a rather bland selection of music cues revealing nothing particularly witty about the director, Reinaldo Marcus Green, which can’t be right, because he’s clearly got warmth, political passion, a sense of humour and real feel for the family dynamic.

All in all, though, it’s a very decent and smart sports film biopic.