Battle of the Sexes: What You Need To Know
In 1973, tennis ace Billie Jean King cemented her place in history when she beat former men's champion Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match dubbed 'the battle of the sexes', responding to a challenge from the self-styled chauvinist Riggs who had not only claimed that he could beat any of the current crop of female players, but also suggested that the women's game was inferior.
The occasion was immortalised in a 2013 documentary by James Erskine and Zara Hayes, but last year a dramatised telling of the story arrived in cinemas and Battle of the Sexes is set to arrive in stores on Monday (March 26th). Here's everything you need to know...
Who's in it?
Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, alongside a cast that includes Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elizabeth Shue, Alan Cumming, Andrea Riseborough and Natalie Morales.
And who's directing?
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the pair responsible for Little Miss Sunshine, are the film's co-directors. They work from script written by Simon Beaufoy, whose previous work includes the screenplays for films such as Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and The Full Monty.
What's the plot?
The film explores the months leading up to the match between Riggs and King in October 1973, and the context in which the match became a symbolic contest between men and women.
For a little context, by the late 1960s the disparity in prize money between men's and women's categories in tennis tournaments had been steadily growing, a situation which reached a nadir in 1970 with the news that the Pacific Southwest Championships, organised by Jack Kramer, would distribute prize funds at a ratio of 8:1 in favour of men. King, one of the most vocal critics of the widening gap, was one of several high-profile female players wishing to boycott the tournament and, along with eight other players, decided instead to take part in a women-only tournament organised by former women's champion Gladys Heldman (played in the film by Sarah Silverman), with King eventually founding the Women's Tennis Association in June 1973.
The confrontation between Kramer (Pullman) and the women over prize money is where the film picks up the story, with Kramer refusing to split the funds evenly on the basis that men are the main attraction because they are “faster, stronger, more exciting to watch”, despite equal tickets sales for both men's and women's finals. The women are later expelled from the tour, setting up their own with sponsorship from the tobacco company behind Virginia Slims.
Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs, now long retired and aged 55, is struggling with a gambling addiction that threatens to ruin his marriage to Priscilla Wheelan (Shue), a situation that is exacerbated when Riggs brings home a Rolls Royce he won in a bet, fails to conceal it, and gets thrown out of his house.
It's partly the need to repay gambling debts that inspires Riggs to publicly suggest that, even at his age, he could still beat any female tennis player, openly challenging King to a winner-takes-all exhibition match. King refuses, but Margaret Court, who was then the highest-ranking female player, accepts his challenge. Riggs comfortably beats Court and once again challenges King to take him on. King is reluctantly agrees, partly because she can't stomach his boasting, but mainly because she realises that a win could transform women's tennis in the eyes of the general public.
Does it deliver?
Dayton and Faris take an already fascinating story and tell it brilliantly, largely thanks to some superb performances from Stone and Carrell, the latter delivering a hugely entertaining turn as Bobby Riggs. A must-watch for tennis fans, but a very enjoyable film for everybody else too.