VOD film review: The Battle of the Sexes (2013)
James R | On 28, Jun 2013
Director: James Erskine
Cast: Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs
When it comes to tennis in the cinema, the nearest we’ve had to Federer vs Nadal is Paul Bettany vs Austin Nichols in 2004’s Wimbledon – a lot of fun, but hardly a clash of the titans.
It’s a treat, then, to see Wimbledon Champions Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs slog it out on the big screen. Back in 1973, it really was a clash of titans. Even if one of the titans was a balding old man with wonky specs.
Declaring that women could never beat men on the court, Bobby challenged Billie to an exhibition match – one that she declined. Only after another female tennis player tried to take him down did she sign up for the showdown, a publicity whirlwind that made thousands for Riggs and took immeasurable strides towards equality in sport.
James Erskine’s documentary neatly cuts together footage and interviews from the time to capture the significance of the event. Some slips in the first half, inserting a flashback too many, leaves the film a break down against our attention span, but once the sport is on the screen, it serves up a volley of entertainment: the contextual ground strokes, coupled with a snazzy 70s soundtrack, injects the whole thing with nail-biting tension, while Erskine smartly presents the TV footage (some of which was previously lost) with a minimum of fuss.
Talking heads from current figures in the game are a nice touch, with Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams and others making it clear just what Billie Jean King did for women’s tennis. But this is a fun documentary that, like its subject, is smart enough to let the tennis do the talking. The end result is a fast, surprising and inspiring look at a sports hero that many modern fans may not even be aware of – and a reminder that the battle of the sexes? That’s still going on today. Forget 2004’s Wimbledon: this is real tennis. And it’s ace.