“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail“, a motto taken quite literally to heart by Richard Williams (Will Smith) and to his family. He might want perfection and he knows he has it flowing through the bodies of his five daughters, all on their way to their own successes thanks to his harsh but loving “plan”, one that he believes above anything will lead them to their dreams in the face of insurmountable odds, be they economical or racial. Two of his youngest, Serena and Venus (Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney, both fantastic) have become talented tennis players under his tutelage and he and his wife Oracene (a powerful Aunjanue Ellis) believe stronger than anything that they are destined for greatness – and so it proved.
From the outset, King Richard may feel like your typical run-of-the-mill biopic that ticks all the boxes of countless others who have come along to try to steal our hearts and maybe see it lead down the path to glory. But despite hitting the usual notes and melodies, such is the finesse and grace of the film and its journey through the usual forest of highs, middles, and lows through the story of its real-life subjects that it lends itself a fresh, welcoming nature that’s impossible to resist. We know ultimately where this is heading, across countless states and multiple tennis courts with a few double faults along the way, but there’s something uniquely likable and invigorating about this one, helping it break free from many of the clichés and traditions that could have sunk it.
Reinaldo Marcus Green, who brought us 2018’s underseen yet superb Monsters and Men, and of course Smith is key to the film’s success and as a double-hander, as separately both are on exquisite form: Green, helping to navigate around the aforementioned potholes, blends vibrancy and composure brilliantly here allowing both the more high-octane sports components of the film to sit seamlessly alongside the more grounded moments as he and screenwriter Zach Baylin weave the film with themes of humbleness, dedication, the power of family and tackling inequality and discrimination, all in a truly and fully touching way that’s both uplifting and tender.
Smith, meanwhile, has been down this road – Awards Avenue, let’s call it – and has come close to reaping the rewards but despite his phenomenal turns in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness (so good in both we can forgive Collateral Beauty, but only just), he is still to truly reach the highest level. As the titular “Royal”, he has and it’s not hyperbolic to say that amongst his other lofty turns through his three decades of work, it’s his definitive portrayal. Headstrong, persistent, and demanding, it would be easy to paint Richard as someone who would exacerbate us as well as his fellow coaches (perhaps in real life, his methods were harsher), but his ambitions and his family are all that matter and that strength and perseverance are what makes his both inspirational and unique and in Smith’s delicate, sincere turn he is impossible to resist.
At a time when we have been torn apart by something beyond our control, watching King Richard reminds you of the extraordinary and otherworldly power of family, togetherness, kindness, and respect that, when used right, can change the world even in a small way. For all its incredible attributes, perhaps this is the thing we can be most thankful for in this empowering, crowd-pleasing film.
Drama, Biopic | 15 | Cinema | 19th November 2021 (UK) | Warner Bros | Dir: Reinaldo Marcus Green | Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal,