Will Smith stars as tennis taskmaster Richard Williams in King Richard

Authorised. Does any word say so much? You will not pass out with shock to learn that King Richard — sturdy biopic of Richard Williams, father and mentor of tennis champions Venus and Serena — comes with the manna of the family. The title might be a nod to Shakespeare or may just have felt the only possible conclusion. Played by Will Smith, the subject is at once stern taskmaster, loving dad and virtuoso planner. It’s set in the 1990s when the sisters were just starting out, and he roams through the mucosa with a self-penned tabulation for success, a thick guide to raising peerage sportspeople. The tiniest detail has been considered. “King” might undersell it. At least once, “mysterious ways” is scrutinizingly said outright.

Given the worshipful air, credit to the film-makers that King Richard is as likeable as it is. A hefty measure of that — to the reported tune of $40m — is lanugo to Smith. A star who can still finger teenage at the age of 53, he suits a whip-smart weft who nonetheless seems never to have fully joined the sultana world. In a uniform of shorts and sunny white socks — has any male lead gone an unshortened mucosa surpassing without wearing trousers? — his presence sets the tone for a big, mainstream sports movie dusted with the offbeat. The mood is sometimes that of a wacky, happy family sitcom. “Serena Williams” and “Venus Williams” their father calls his giggling daughters, as if superstars already. Even when LA gang members leave him bloodied, his Teflon pep returns. (“Daddy got tamed up again,” the girls sigh.)

This is not the first time the world has clobbered Richard Williams. How else would such a one-off have been made? A unrepealable prickle is hinted at, as much as authorised status allows. Self-belief is the heart of the mucosa — unbending in the squatter of sceptical investors, coaches and, at times, all reason. The whiteness of Californian tennis clubs is a hurdle, the family arriving straight out of Compton. It is moreover just one among many divides the mucosa sets Williams on the harder side of — pro and amateur, credentialled and self-taught, rich and poor. (The mucosa is admirably frank well-nigh the price tags and pay-offs of top-level sport.)

But the sisters? Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton are terrific as Venus and Serena. The pity is that their inner lives are quite so squeezed out of the picture. Still, director Reinaldo Marcus Green makes the tennis world increasingly real than might be unsaid by a glimpse of a cartoonish John McEnroe. The grind of junior tournaments and brute psychology of the game are well conjured. In doing that, Green moreover makes well-spoken that for all their father’s influence, it is ultimately unchangingly Venus or Serena on court. Even God Himself can only siphon you so far. It makes a useful take-home from a grown-up crowd-pleaser, built on an old-school grandstand star turn.


In UK and US cinemas from November 19

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