Review: Battle of the Sexes

DIR: Johnathan Dayton, Valerie Faris  WRI: Simon Beaufoy  PRO: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Karen Ruth Getchell, Robert Graf  DOP: Linus Sandgren • ED: Pamela Martin • DES: Judy Becker  Ed: Stephen Mirrione  MUS: Nicholas Britell  CAST: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman and Jessica McNamee, Austin Stowell, Alan Cumming

Based around the events of the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), this sports biopic dramatizes the personal and professional lives of King and Riggs in the run up to the match. Angered that the prize money of Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman)’s latest tournament is unevenly distributed – winning women receiving just an eight of what is to be awarded to the winning men, with the assumed natural inferiority of women offered up as explanation – King and close friend Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) vow to start their own women’s league.

Expelled from the Lawn Tennis Association, the team struggles before winning sponsorship from Virginia Slims cigarettes, thanks to King’s star pull and Heldman’s persistence. While preparing for their tour, King meets Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), a hairdresser who quickly steals the tennis player’s heart – and concentration, as King is beat in the finals by rival Margret Court (Jessica McNamee). Meanwhile, with a gambling problem destroying his marriage, Riggs decides to challenge the top female player in America in an attempt to revitalise his career and prove that men are superior at the sport. A self-proclaimed chauvinistic pig, Riggs hams up the misogyny which was rife throughout the seventies, and as Court folds horrifically under the pressure of Riggs’ match, the torch is passed to King. Determined to trash Riggs and achieve equal pay and equal standing for the women of the tennis world, King has to fight to put her personal life on hold.

This proves most difficult, as King is torn between her newly discovered sexuality and attraction to Marilyn, and her loyalty to her husband Larry (Austin Stowell). Helped along by Ted Tinling (Alan Cumming), King begins to settle in her skin, and when Larry calls for Marilyn to attend the Battle of the Sexes match, the immediate soothing effect of her presence hints at a dualistic liberation for King.

Funny, touching, and exciting, Battle of the Sexes is a film about perseverance and standing your ground. Although the intersectional liberation movements of the period go unexplored, the film provides a vignette of the intense misogyny aimed towards women, and the sacrifices and energy required to challenge it and to spark change.

Sadhbh Ní Bhroin

12A (See IFCO for details)

121 minutes
Battle of the Sexes is released 24th November 2017

Battle of the Sexes – Official Website




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