A look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams.
There are some sportsmen and sportswoman who become such icons that even those with little or no interest in their sport (or sport in general) know all about them. Think Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo or the Williams sisters. ‘King Richard’ is the uplifting story of the Williams sisters childhood, and the events that set them on the path to dominate woman’s tennis for over 20 years now. However this is no direct biopic of the all-conquering Venus (Saniyya Sidney) & Serena (Demi Singleton), but of their father and coach Richard (Will Smith), the dominating, dogged and complex man who played the largest part in setting them up for the success they’ve gone on to have.
‘King Richard’ takes place in the late 80s and early 90s and focuses on the Williams family as they balance trying to make a living with an intensive coaching regime to turn Venus & Serena into top tennis players. Despite no prior formal tennis experience, Richard coaches the girls and has written a blueprint that he believes will take them to the very top. In the early going he attempts to find a coach for the girls (hard without money), but his attempts are mostly rebuffed and written off. Little did they all know! I really enjoyed these scenes of Richard hustling his way round tennis pro’s and I felt ‘King Richard’ showed both the dedication he had as well as the genuine insight and talent he had to coach the girls. It’s not just intensive training in every spare minute – he films them to get them to work on their technique, and he studies professional tennis players to adopt aspects that he believes will work for his girls. It’s a remarkable story and it only gets better as it progresses.
As the girls get older, Richard recognizes the need (as per his plan!) to get them proper coaching and he finds this first through Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) then Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), but he always retains control which leads to several clashes with the coaches. From the vantage point of 2021, it’s hard to argue that Richard’s methods weren’t successful, but I liked that ‘King Richard’ wasn’t one sided and isn’t afraid to show that Richard could be rude, pig-headed and selfish, and that his decisions were sometimes counterproductive. He’s played by Will Smith who is a magnetic presence, as good as he’s been in years frankly, and his performance really elevates the movie. The casting across the board is spot on to be fair, with archive footage played over the end credits really driving home how well the actors and actresses capture both the look and feel of the people they are portraying.
Some may be surprised that the film concludes when Venus is 14, so for those expecting ‘King Richard’ to take you through their many triumphs on the professional tennis circuit, you’d be mistaken. I think that decision works well and this is a wonderful insight into not only the minds and dedication of Richard, Venus & Serena, but also into an industry that doesn’t (or didn’t anyway) always make it easy for aspiring youngsters to take up the sport. ‘King Richard’ is an excellent sports movie about how the sheer will and dedication of Richard and Oracene Williams helped to drive two poor girls from Compton to go on to become the best players in the world. Not much could be more uplifting than that!
Directed By: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Starring: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal, Dylan McDermott, Kevin Dunn, Andy Bean, Danielle Lawson, Layla Crawford and Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew