Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Battle of the Sexes (4 Stars)
Man versus woman. Who will win? In a fair fight between the best specimens of each gender it would be a close contest, but the tennis match that took place on 20th September 1973 was anything but close.
The former tennis champion Bobby Riggs claimed that even at the age of 55 he could still beat the world's best female tennis player, because women are inferior in both strength and skill. Most of all he claimed that women can't handle psychological pressure. The extravagance of his condescending attitude made people think he was just putting on a show. It's true that he was a showman, but his personal friends have verified that he really did think women were inferior to men.
The match took place at a crucial point in Billie Jean King's life. She was recognised as the best woman tennis player in the world, despite losing a championship match against the Australian Margaret Court. She was caught up in arguments with the Lawn Tennis Association about the difference in prize money for the male and female championships ($120,000 for men, $15,000 for women). She had been married for eight years, but she was beginning to find herself more attracted to women than to men. These themes are all dealt with in the film.
Then the loudmouth Bobby Riggs appeared who was spouting propaganda about the superiority of men over women. He had a shock victory over Margaret Court which he used as proof that he was right. In actual fact, she had buckled under the pressure of the occasion. Bobby Riggs was the king of trash talk, which unnerved her and prevented her playing her best game. Billie Jean King felt no animosity towards Bobby, she even considered him a friend, but she had to stand up for the honour of women. She had stronger nerves than Margaret Court. When Bobby talked trash Billie Jean talked trash back at him. She went along with Bobby's showmanship. If Bobby wanted a show Billie Jean would give him a show, the biggest show on Earth. The only thing she wouldn't do was let him win.
The match was hyped up as the ultimate battle between man and woman, but it was just a tennis match between a young woman and an old man. If he'd been at his prime, as he'd been when he was world champion in 1946, he would probably have beaten her. In 1973 he didn't stand a chance.
Nevertheless, the match was taken seriously at the time. Women throughout the world treated it as a great victory. Even in the cinema tonight I could witness the emotional effect. A woman sitting in front of me clapped every time Billie Jean won a point in the match. I'm not a tennis fan, I never have been, but I also found myself being carried along by the excitement of the match.
I strongly praise the performances of the two lead actors, Emma Stone and Steve Carell. They both look uncannily similar to the characters they play.