Battle of the Sexes (4 stars)

Battle of the Sexes

TIFF 2017: Emma Stone shines in a crowdpleasing dramedy recreating the tennis match of a lifetime

Screen versions of gladiatorial sporting contests seem to be very much in vogue. With Borg vs McEnroe also doing the festival rounds, Battle of the Sexes follows hot on its heels – recreating the celebrated tennis grudge match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and unrepentant male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It is an irresistible story, previously covered in an excellent 2013 TV documentary, and the stellar cast and smart screenplay from Simon Beaufoy extracts every last drop of juice from it.

The 1973 encounter between King and Riggs was about much more than tennis. It was a pivotal moment in the battle for women's rights and the demand for equality. It is hard to revisit the attitudes of the period, although perhaps just as difficult to contemplate whether much has really changed.

Riggs had been the number one tennis player in the world. A hustler and buffoon, he always seems to be pursuing get-rich-quick schemes. The chance to prove that men were infinitely superior to women at tennis felt tailor-made to generate heated debate and a lucrative pay cheque. You sense for Riggs it was all part of the chaotic circus of his life, as he promises to put the 'show back into chauvinist'. In the case of King it was a do or die moment to strike a blow for women everywhere. There was the added pressure of her affair with hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) and the first steps to identifying as a gay woman.

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) have assembled a slick crowdpleaser – especially for anyone who has little knowledge of the context or outcome of the game. Carell finds the outrageous and the sad within Riggs' personality but it is the warmth and force of Stone's highly convincing performance that wins game, set and film.

Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 24 Nov.

Battle of the Sexes

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 2h 1min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
  • Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue
  • UK release: 24 November 2017

Based on the true story of the 1973 tennis match between unrepentant male chauvinist ex-no. 1 Bobby Riggs (Carell) and Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King (Stone). An irresistible story, with Carell finding the outrageous and the sad within Riggs, and Stone’s warm and forceful performance winning the film.