On the tennis court, love is all around

BATTLE OF THE SEXES (12A)Husband and wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, serve-and-volley a fine romance in their dramatisation of the televised 1973 match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, which was billed as a showdown of youth versus experience as much as a battle of the sexes.

Tuesday, 21st November 2017, 4:12 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:40 am
Undated film still handout from Battle Of The Sexes. Pictured: Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman and Emma Stone as Billie Jean King. See PA Feature FILM Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Melinda Sue Gordon. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Reviews.

The fractious face-off provides the film with a gripping conclusion, even if you know the eventual outcome, executed with pinpoint precision and slick digital effects.

Billie Jean (Emma Stone) and her ballsy manager Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) are enraged when Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), one of the founders of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), announces the prize money for a forthcoming tournament, which is heavily weighted in favour of the male players.

In retaliation, King spearheads the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), including her fiercest rival, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee).

The women-only tour gains in popularity and during one layover, Billie Jean meets hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough).

The spark of attraction is palpable, even though Billie Jean has an adoring husband, Larry King (Austin Stowell).

As Billie Jean agonises with her forbidden desires, former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), now past his prime, issues a bold challenge to any female player to face him on the court.

Battle Of The Sexes demonstrates a deft touch in lobbing moments of gentle humour into the characters’ emotional upheaval.

Carell portrays her opponent as a media-savvy showman and buffoon, who is weighed down by the expectations of an establishment that believes, “people pay to see the men play. They’re more of a draw”.

When the tears of his clown start to fall, we’re suitably moved.