by Hamish Calvert
Regardless of whether or not you’re a tennis fan, the names Venus and Serena Williams are well-known to all. Having earned a level of fame only enjoyed by those at the very top of their respective sports, their athletic talent and success transcend the confines of the courts they play on. However, a name that may not be as familiar to most is Richard Williams, the father of the two sporting sisters. Making reference to him in his film’s title director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard takes audiences back in time to Compton, California where Venus and Serena grew up. It’s here where Richard and his wife Brandy coached them with high hopes of professional careers and top world rankings. Of course, viewers know how the story ends, but this is less of a Williams sisters biopic and more of a reflection on the man that set them on their way to sporting stardom.
The Williams, as well as their half-sister Isha Price, serve as executive producers on the film and it’s clear that their intention is to honour their father, offering their gratitude for all that he has done for them. However, this doesn’t mean that the film paints his character as a flawless father figure worthy of complete praise, the reality is thankfully far from this naive assumption. Instead, King Richard delivers a thoughtful portrait of a man who wants the best for his family, so much so that this sometimes affects his judgement for the worse. Conversely, it also shows his brilliant ingenuity and perseverance in entering and eventually dominating a sporting arena largely consisting of privileged, rich and white competitors. Will Smith is the performer tasked with portraying him and he does a tremendous job, shedding his usual Hollywood charm that he’s often employed in his past films. Here he delivers a more dramatic and nuanced turn that shows the maturity of his ability, offering a characterisation equal parts endearing and frustrating.
His support from Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as the young Venus and Serena is second to none, with Aunjanue Ellis’ portrayal of their mother providing a further ace in a collection of grand slam performances. What’s maybe most impressive about King Richard though is its ability to tell multiple stories at once. The focus is most definitely on the Williams patriarch however, whilst telling his story audiences are also treated to an insight into the sisters’ early career paths with an admittedly more intense spotlight on Venus. However, every time it feels like Serena isn’t receiving enough attention the film counteracts this and by the time the credits have rolled it really feels like King Richard has told this familial story with appropriate care and concern for all. It achieves this over a long-running time, which at first may feel off-putting yet the film never once feels like it’s outstaying its welcome.
Audiences already know about the Williams sisters’ amazing talent, dedication and hard work on the tennis court so approaching their story with a focus on the crucial influence of their father allows for a more unique and less generic style of sports drama. This creative angle is backed up by the strength of performances and storytelling, ensuring that whilst this may not be the film that audiences would have expected to see about the Williams, it’s one that actually tells us so much more about them, and ultimately what they value most.
King Richard is out in cinemas now!