Will Smith Is Relentless In King Richard — BFI Film Review
Somewhere in the 1990’s, Richard Williams, an unconventional father who was often unbearable to be around, announced to the world that his two daughters were the best in the sport. And Tennis was changed forever.
I was skeptical while booking the tickets to Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard at BFI’s London Film Festival 2021. There was no palpable reason apart from the fact that I didn’t follow Tennis. I only dive into films and shows after researching about them, reading premises, watching trailers (yes, its important) and getting myself aware about the director and the screenwriter. After all, it is two hours of my life, and as we all know, life is short. I watched the screening at BFI’s buzzing and super artsy location at the Southbank Centre in Waterloo, London. King Richard was being sold as a biopic on the father and coach of two of the greatest Tennis players of all time, Venus and Serena Williams. Somewhere in the 1990’s, Richard Williams, an unwitting father who was often unbearable to be around, announced to the world that his two daughters were the best in the sport. And Tennis was changed forever.
King Richard not only captures the rise of the talented little kids beautifully, but also romances with Richard William’s character trajectory. It is not your normal sports biopic with high melodrama, extreme stakes or factual inaccuracy. It is subtle, quirky and decently paced. Richard gets beaten up by goons, rejects the international coach’s advice, focuses more on the round development of his kids rather than forcing them to become just sportstars.
There are optimistic elements of Smith’s previous film The Pursuit of Happyness. But he draws a line well as he seemed self-aware that the two films are different at the soul in-spite of being similar on the surface where a father takes the centre stage. It is essentially the story of Richard’s relentless drive towards making Venus and Serena world-class players, but the director plays smart towards the end when he allows the story to form a bubble around 14-year-old Serena and her historic match.
There’s much to look into King Richard. It has elements of tackling racism in the mid 90’s America and deals well with the feminist undertones as well. One scene which was striking to me is towards the end when Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Brandi Williams, confronts the adamancy of Richard. She makes him question his motivations, deep seated insecurities and his constant denial to others’ opinions. The scene is so strongly written that it was followed by a cheer and round of claps by the jam-packed BFI theatre.
The film also reminded me of Aamir khan starrer Dangal (reference for the Indian readers). A father who is rock-solid, two daughters who are phenomenal at sports and a strong feminist approach. Although, when the film releases in theatres on 19th November and on HBO Max simultaneously, I’m sure that the audience will love the ending. It is a different take on sports films which becomes imperative when usually the same formula is being used all around the globe in this genre.
In hindsight, I’m glad that i didn't skip this film. BFI’s London Film Festival this year showcased some of the gems from the world cinema. King Richard is nothing short of a diamond in the mill. Watch it for the performances, the screenplay and Will Smith’s portrayal. Meanwhile, as a new convert, I’ll go and stream some Tennis matches.
I’ll be writing a film review for The Velvet Underground as well which got standing ovation at the festival. It is now streaming on Apple TV, so watch the film before reading the review (coming next week), because unlike this, that will be full of spoliers.