King Richard sets out to reform the Williams sisters’ media-hogging father with a lively cast and an apologetic lens. Smith adds empathy to an already criticized figure, once again stealing the limelight away from his protagonistic daughters.

It comes as no surprise that the power pairing of Venus and Serena Williams finally has its own dramatized biopic. At first, hearing about King Richard left me a little confused; I would love to see the rise of two of the best players to have ever graced the sport, but I was thrown by the choice of perspective. Richard Williams has always found his way into the spotlight, holding up his hand-written signs as he babbles on and on to the media. While certainly odd (and criticised), Richard never felt like the main character. His parental presence in his daughters’ lives must have been important, but is it worth turning such empowering lives into a male-driven success story?

Growing up in Compton, Richard Williams (Will Smith) had a bucket full of hope and pockets filled with money-shaped holes. With nothing but the obsession of a desperate man, Williams envisions a plan for his unborn daughters; a future where he trains and teaches not one, but two tennis stars. Driven by his ungreedy lust for fame, power, and money, Richard has to find a balance between his parental duties as a loving father and his duties as a businessman, Serena and Venus his budding assets.

The focus on Richard may not have been apparent at first but Will Smith’s evocative performance as the sisters’ mentor drives the film into niche and relatively unexplored areas. How can someone be both parent and trainer when their duties clearly clash with each other – a common theme as Richard often pushes them too far forcing mother and tennis trainer Brandi Williams (Aunjanue Ellis) to step in. There is certainly a line between pushing and forcing, Venus and Serena practising in the pouring rain as the fuzzy green balls refuse to bounce off the wet court. So when does the line become so blurred that we can no longer tell which side we are on?

King Richard doesn’t focus on the rising talents as it favours these emotional dilemmas. Richard is constantly on guard as he references and re-references his prophetic plan that has gotten his family so far, Smith always waiting to capitalise on the ambiguous love of a controlling father. He preaches patience as he struggles with his own shortcomings, he forces his control over his daughters’ careers so that they can have proper childhoods, he lectures on humility to then be braggingly rude. With so many things touched on, there is very little time to explore.

Caught in her sister’s shadow… Demi Singleton, Will Smith. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures.Caught in her sister’s shadow… Demi Singleton, Will Smith. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Poverty, race, age, greed, stardom; so many pieces are in play that few ever become significant enough to make a return visit, the lucky few marred by the thought of all the loose ends left dangling. Narratively, there is never any discord between the escalating plot lines of the Williams family yet so many themes never get the attention they deserve; Richard suddenly gaining local respect and protections without a hint of persuasion. Instead, King Richard sticks to its own plan: clarity on a troubled father.

Parenting potential professionals through the sporting ranks is a dilemma covered elsewhere, because Richard didn’t find himself gifted with two sporty daughters, he crafted them. Regardless of whether they fell in love with the sport and became the greatest players ever (who cares about Nadal v Federar, Serena has more Grand Slams than either), he began their journey. King Richard makes it clear: he was right. His plan worked and everyone lived happily ever after but being right is a loose justification for a man who had it all planned out before his daughters even existed. What if they hated tennis, would Richard be just another abusive father with an avarice for wealth? If only Richard’s darker side was more explored. History is always written by the winners.

King Richard is currently showing in select cinemas.

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