Being The Ricardos (3 stars)

Being The Ricardos

Nicole Kidman steps into the shoes of funny woman Lucille Ball in this smart biopic from Aaron Sorkin

It might not seem immediately apparent from the title, for UK audiences especially, but Being The Ricardos is the story of that effervescent, all-American sitcom star Lucille Ball and her volatile relationship with husband Desi Arnaz. The pair played Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in trailblazing 1950s success story I Love Lucy and their personal and professional trials are recreated by stars Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem under the stewardship of writer-director Aaron Sorkin.

Though the couple's backstory is explored, the film's jumping-off point is the 1953 scandal that threatened to derail Ball's career: a media furore which incorrectly branded her a Communist. Being The Ricardos alternates between faux documentary mode (key supporting players act as talking heads looking back on the aforementioned controversy) and a more natural narrative exploration of events.

He might be an Oscar nominee for his work on The Trial Of The Chicago 7, Molly's Game and Moneyball and a winner for his Social Network screenplay, but Sorkin is probably still most admired for being the man behind The West Wing. However, there's more of a Mad Men feel to Being The Ricardos as it illuminates the creative process and sexual politics of a similar era; we see Ball and the show's only female writer Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) win respect and make strides regarding the representation of their gender, but it's done under the wary and watchful eye of powerful men, who are all too eager to push back.

If Bardem brings his usual charisma he doesn't much resemble Arnaz but Kidman is a decent physical fit for Ball and the film paints an enjoyably warts-and-all picture of the actress. It fruitfully emphasises the fine art of making people laugh, showing Ball's shrewd comedic instincts and perfectionism, alongside her domineering and critical professional style, which puts the noses of collaborators out of joint even as they stand in awe of her abilities. Sorkin also spends time dwelling on her increasing anxiety about the potential destruction of her career and her questions regarding her husband's faithfulness.

It could be argued that a character as complex and pioneering as Ball deserves her own biopic, rather than sharing so much of the screentime. By flitting frequently between eras and perspectives the film feels more jittery and less engrossing than it could have been and, though Kidman's imitation is typically meticulous and she conveys her canniness brilliantly, it's hard to fake Ball's natural comedic spark. But Sorkin's sensitivity to Ball's predicament is admirable in a smart and thoughtful look behind the laughter.

Available to watch in selected cinemas from Friday 10 December and on Amazon Prime Video from Tuesday 21 December.

Being the Ricardos

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 2h 5min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
  • Cast: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg
  • UK release: 10 December 2021

Biopic following Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as they face a crises which could end their careers and their marriage.