King Richard review: Will Smith serves in heartfelt biopic of Venus and Serena Williams’ father


King Richard goes above and beyond the traditional sports movies and biopics that we’ve seen many of in the past, with director Reinaldo Marcus Green taking the narrative in a completely different direction, putting the father of Venus and Serena Williams firmly in the spotlight.

Much is known about the careers of the tennis legends, who are noted among the greatest to ever pick up a racket, but the filmmaker shifted the lens to the very early days, focusing on the lengths Richard Williams, played expertly by Will Smith, went to in order to make his daughters superstars.

The very first scenes set this up as he travels between predominately white private clubs, raving about the talents of Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton). With every slammed door, his efforts grow, until coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) finally takes notice.

From then on, we see his battle to keep his say in how their careers go, ensuring that they stick to the plan he decided upon before they were even born, as wife Brandi (Aunjanue Ellis) inwardly appears to grow more exasperated with his efforts, constantly reminding him that they should be a team.

We know how the story goes as both Serena and Venus are still playing today, but even so, it is an emotional, compelling look at how they got their feet in the door to become the world renowned athletes that fans have watched compete for decades.

Will has always been a force to be reckoned with but in King Richard, he shows us a side that we’ve never seen before, and his portrayal of the patriarch is truly uncanny. He is able to flip between Richard’s notable determination and his ability to deliver quips with ease.

There are scenes that are almost painful to watch as he is attacked early on by thugs, for trying to protect the innocence of his children, leaving us rooting for Richard even more.

He is matched perfectly by Aunjanue as the doting mother of five growing daughters, who is every bit as protective as her husband but has learned to pick her battles over the years. Reinaldo made sure not to overshadow Brandi’s own efforts with their budding careers, showing her on the courts with Serena just as Richard observes sessions with her sibling. 

The director also didn’t shy away from the topic of race, and Richard’s uncomfortable meeting with a group of coaches is a perfect example of this. He makes awkward jokes and rallies against the coded language used about Venus’ talent. Having none of their attitudes, he takes matters into his own hands once more, and changes the course of their careers to the disbelief of everyone around him – something that clearly worked out.

A poignant conversation between Richard and Venus ahead of a tournament sees him share his own harrowing experiences of racism, to make sure that she understands the responsibility and expectation that will be been placed on her from the very second that she steps on the court, at a time where Black people are still being beaten on the streets.

For a film that delves through Richard’s journey to take his daughters from dilapidated tennis courts in their Compton neighbourhood to the plush court of Wimbledon, there are aspects of their family life that are barely touched on, and almost glossed over. 

We’re aware that he’s not a perfect family man, with his stubborn side emphasised in his decision to pull his daughter out of competitions against her will, under the guise of protection. But a bitter row with Brandi lays bare more of his shortcomings as a husband, as she recalls his infidelities and a time when his illegitimate son showed up unannounced. 

For a film dedicated to ‘King Richard’, it would have added another dimension for the audience to have seen how heavy that crown was for the whole family to wear, with more of a light on Brandi and their other children.

Some might see this as purely another sports biopic, while others may be dissuaded from watching by simply not being fans of tennis but that’s not what King Richard really is. At the heart, it’s truly a story about a family not letting adversity stand in the way of their dreams, and a dad who is willing to do whatever it takes to make them come true. 

‘This world ain’t never had no respect for Richard Williams but they’re going to respect y’all,’ he proudly tells his daughters at one point – but we dare you not to be inspired by his determination.

King Richard is released in cinemas on November 19.

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