Review of King Richard - the biopic about Venus and Serena Williams's dad

Novak Djokovic's visa status isn't the only tennis drama on Australian shores at the moment.

King Richard, the biopic about the father of tennis sensations Venus and Serena Williams, has just hit cinemas in time for the Australia Open - a masterstroke of themed releasing.

The film has already netted star Will Smith a Golden Globe for best actor (even though the ceremony wasn't held this year and most industry folk ignored the controversy-laden awards this year), and he is also in contention for a Screen Actor's Guild award and likely to score an Oscar nomination.

Smith plays the titular Richard Williams, a dedicated father to Venus, Serena and their three older half-sisters. He lives, sleeps and breathes tennis, constantly scouring newspapers, magazines and TV footage for tips and tricks that will make his girls the best tennis players in the world.

We learn Richard is a man who decided his daughters were going to be tennis prodigies before they were even born, mapping their whole career trajectories out as a detailed life itinerary.

And while this should seem a little over-the-top, the film plays it like it's something to be celebrated with only one dissenting voice represented - their nosy neighbour in the less-than-glamorous Los Angeles neighbourhood of Compton, who calls in the police for a child welfare check, believing Richard is working the girls too hard.

But despite Venus and Serena apparently never having any say in their life goals, the pair - played ably by young actresses Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton - do seem to have a love for their sport.

Richard tries every trick in the book to secure the sisters a coach who will elevate their game - even though he ultimately thinks he knows best.

He first tries with Paul Cohen (played with frustrated cockiness by Scandal's Tony Goldwyn), bringing his daughters along to crash a training session with John McEnroe and Pete Sampras.

Famous family: Demi Singleton, Saniyya Sidney and Will Smith star in the new Williams family biopic King Richard, rated M, in cinemas now. Picture: Warner Bros

Famous family: Demi Singleton, Saniyya Sidney and Will Smith star in the new Williams family biopic King Richard, rated M, in cinemas now. Picture: Warner Bros

But Cohen is only interested in coaching Venus at this stage. After that venture fizzles out, Richard convinces Florida-based coach Rick Macci to take a bet on the girls and the family relocates to the Sunshine State.

What is frustrating as a viewer is the fact the girls are played by the same actresses over about a four-year period, between roughly the ages of nine and 13 (Serena) and 10 and 14 (Venus).

It's a rude shock when it's revealed the girls are competing in the under-10s and under-12s divisions at their junior competitions, when both actresses look 14 at the very youngest. Saying that, they both do a good job, as do all the actors in the film.

Smith is commendable, and will likely draw tears in a couple of particularly poignant scenes. He uses Richard's specific Louisiana accent quite well, and walks in such a way that his completely different from the Fresh Prince we all know and love.

Jon Bernthal (Ford v Ferrari) continues to be excellent as Macci, who seems like a super lovely guy.

But it's Aunjanue Ellis (Lovecraft Country) as Williams family matriarch Oracene who steals the show.

She exudes dignity and respect, fiercely championing her daughters and managing the ego and crazy plans of her husband at Oracene.

King Richard also does a great job of recreating the feel of the early 90s, paying particular attention to hair and costume in a way that doesn't feel performative.

Despite its successes, the film never manages to prove Richard as a worthy focus of the biopic, and not his daughters. There's little backstory for the character, and his achievements are really Venus and Serena's (mostly Venus's). It seems a true biopic of the Williams sisters with a great chapter on the dedication and drive of their father would have been a better solution.

Rating: 6/10

This story King Richard film review: Williams sisters and dad on show first appeared on Wollondilly Advertiser.