The Battle Of The Sexes (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner26/06/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 90 mins

Impressively directed and skilfully edited, The Battle of the Sexes is a hugely entertaining documentary that tells a colourful, fascinating story and makes a series of resonant points about equal rights.

What's it all about?
Directed by James Erskine and Zara Hayes, The Battle of the Sexes is a documentary about the so-called Battle of the Sexes, a 1973 tennis match between reigning Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King and former champion and self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs, who proclaimed, at the age of 55, that he could beat any woman in the world. In fact, Riggs had already taken on and beaten a former Wimbledon champion (Margaret Court), prompting Billie Jean King to finally take up his challenge in a match watched by a global audience of 50 million people.

At the same time, the publicity generated by the match served to highlight the discrepancy in pay between men's and women's championship matches (men could win up to 12 times the amount women could win), which in turn led to Billie Jean King and the ‘Original Nine’ forming the Women's Tennis Association; their subsequent struggle for the Majors (including Wimbledon) to award equal prize money essentially placed women's tennis at the forefront of the Women's Liberation movement.

The Good
Co-directors Erskine and Hayes tell the story through a combination of expertly assembled talking heads (including Billie Jean King and many of the Original Nine) and a wealth of terrific archive material, most notably the original televised footage (previously presumed lost) of the Margaret Court/Riggs match, with people like John Wayne, Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson visible in the audience.

Billie Jean King is terrific value, telling the story with lively wit and an infectious warmth; it's clear that she had enormous affection for Riggs, despite their apparent rivalry and his jaw-dropping public pronouncements (‘I want to prove that women are lousy, they stink, they don't belong on the same court as a man’). Riggs, too, is a gift of a character to the film and what emerges most clearly is that he had an extraordinary talent for self-promotion and knew exactly what to say in order to generate maximum publicity and thereby keep his waning career afloat; in that context, the footage of he and King clearly enjoying each other's company even while trash-talking each other is rather touching.

The Great
The King/Riggs match itself is riveting enough, but the story of the Original Nine's battle with the male dominated tennis associations is equally gripping; it's also genuinely shocking in places, particularly when the associations pull an initially successful Divide and Rule trick. Ultimately, the film carries a powerful message about standing up for what you believe in, while serving as a poignant reminder that the battle for equal rights still has a way to go.

Worth seeing?
The Battle of the Sexes is an enormously entertaining and extremely well made documentary that should appeal to both tennis fans and non-tennis fans alike. Recommended.

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The Battle Of The Sexes (PG)
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Content updated: 20/10/2017 13:17

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