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Battle of the Sexes


Stars: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Austin Stowell, Elisabeth Shue, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Sarah Silverman, Jessica McNamee

Director: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton

This is not so much about the famous tennis match between 55-year-old ex-world number 1 Bobby Riggs (Carell) and women's Grand Slam winner Billie Jean King (Stone), then 29, as it is the story of the participants' private lives, in a film that entertains, but never runs along its course smoothly enough.

King was married to a handsome husband (Stowell) but about to embark on a lesbian affair with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Riseborough) which would define her life. Riggs - Carell is almost a dead ringer for the real thing - was a gambler who liked to clown around to the despair of a wife (Shue) about to leave him.

As we meet her, King is incensed that promoter Jack Kramer (played sleekly by Pullman as a silver fox) is offering the men eight times the women's rate - resulting in a breakaway group as the women, led by Billie Jean, set up the Virginia Slims tennis circuit.

Riggs, who has recently thrashed women's number 1 Margaret Court (McNamee) sees an opportunity to reduce his gambling debts and challenges Billie Jean to a $100,000 grudge match over five sets.

Carell steals all his scenes, even though playing second fiddle to Stone, who brings little to Billie Jean other than raven hair and the famous glasses.

Tennis fans may feel aggrieved at waiting so long for on-court action (though the climactic match is well staged when it does come) especially as the surrounding drama never really catches fire - even though the lesbian love scenes generate enough heat to push the boundaries of the 12A certificate.

David Quinlan

USA 2017. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight). Colour by FotoKem.
121 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 0.

Review date: 23 Nov 2017