A showboating self-promoter; an overbearing bully; a distraction from his daughters’ careers: all of this and more has been levelled at Richard Williams, the larger-than-life father and coach of Venus and Serena Williams. This crowd-pleasing biopic, starring a grizzled Will Smith as Williams, redresses the balance somewhat with a more sympathetic portrait. It’s worth noting that both the Williams sisters and their half-sibling Isha Price are listed as executive producers.
Even so, the film doesn’t entirely shy away from the more difficult aspects of Williams’s personality. Smith is excellent, fully inhabiting the character in one of the only roles to date that has required him to fully shed his habitual gloss of Will Smith charm. Williams’s personality is angular and uncomfortable, shaped by poverty, violence and discrimination. Of course he was never going to be an easy fit within the rarefied circles of the tennis elite. Smith is matched by Aunjanue Ellis, playing wife and mother Oracene Price with warmth and dignity. It’s a very watchable picture, but one that, like the plan that Williams famously wrote for his daughters, feels at times like a checklist of challenges overcome and decisions vindicated.