If you get up at 630am at the start of the London Film Festival and drag yourself to Leicester Square for an 815am (WHY) screening, you kinda want that film to be something special. Unfortunately Battle of The Sexes wasn’t special. No ladies (and men I suppose) it was spectacular. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a press screening where there were bouts of spontaneous applause through the film and at the end. Even the men were clapping. OK I’ll stop poking fun at men now and let the movie do it instead.
In 1972 Billie Jean King was the number one female tennis player in the world. Selling tickets at the same rate as the men, drawing in crowds, universally adored (hell even Nixon rang her to say how great she was), she was on top of the world. Except there was one thing she didn’t have – equal prize money to her male counterparts. Billie Jean tried to rectify the situation with Jack Kramer, head of the American lawn tennis association and ended up starting her own all female tour. Kramer promptly kicked all participants out of the American lawn tennis Association. Billie Jean and her kick ass females launched a successful tour doing everything themselves.
Meanwhile 55-year-old former tennis star and compulsive gambler Bobby Riggs is playing tennis for money and trying to hide his compulsions from his rich wife Priscilla. Bobby cooks up the greatest scheme of all – to play the number one woman in the world. He plays and beats Margaret Court in an embarrassment of a game that makes a mockery of female tennis players. So it’s down to Billie Jean King to set the situation right.
Rather like when I saw Wonder Woman, this depiction of a strong female (non sexual boys!) made me spontaneously burst into tears several times and cheer at others. Emma Stone is exemplary in the role, this is the role she should’ve won the Oscar for. Not the one where Ryan Gosling is teaching back men about Jazz. Steve Carrel is prefect as the clownish showman Bobby Riggs, no other actor can simultaneously make you laugh out loud and break your heart like Carrel can. The surprising thing about Battle of The Sexes is that it isn’t just about a tennis match. It’s about love, adversity, equality and acceptance. Whilst on the tour Billie Jean met a hairdresser called Marilyn and feel head over heels in love. Of course this is 1972, an affair would be bad enough for her career but an affair with a woman??? End of career. End of relationship with parents. End of everything. Andrea Riseborough, always outstanding, mesmerising in this as Marilyn and the heart-breaking love affair the two women have is beautifully portrayed. Directors Dayton and Fairs of Little Miss Sunshine perfectly balance the human relationships of Riggs and King and the tennis match. There are times when perhaps the depiction of Riggs is almost too pantomime but it didn’t detract from the overall power of the film and anyway you only need look on YouTube to realise how true a depiction it is!
This was the first film I saw at the LFF 2017 and talk about starting with a smash. Battle of The Sexes is extremely important in both LGBTQ rights, feminism and equalityIt’s a shame that almost fifty years later Venus and Serena aren’t earning the same as Djokavic. Let us not forget that just recently at the BNP Parabis Open Tennis Tournament CEO Raymond Moore said female players in the Women's Tennis Association are ‘riding on the coattails of men’. He followed up by suggesting that women should "go down every night on [their] knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have." Yeah, because Venus and Serena, are SCOTCH MIST you absolute IDIOT. There’s still a long way to go baby but Billie Jean and Battle of The Sexes - I LOVE YOU.