“Someday,” says camp fashion designer Ted Tinling (Alan Cumming) to closeted tennis player Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), “we will be free to be who we are and love who we love.” For some, Like King’s protege Martina Navratilova, that day was long ago. For others, like former Olympians Colin Jackson and Mark Foster, the latter of whom admitted earlier in the week to having “tiptoed around in the shadows for so long, but now is the time to come out,” that day was a long time in coming. And for many, including the by-law-of-averages many Premiership footballers, that day has yet to dawn.
The closet is a lonely place. And it is even lonelier if the eyes of the world and his heterosexual wife are watching your every move. As they are of King after she becomes the first female athlete to earn over $100,000 in a single year. A level of scrutiny which magnifies when she is forced to set up a rival tournament (sponsored by fags nonetheless in the shape of Virginia Slims cigarettes) after the head of the Lawn Tennis Association Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) refuses to address the 8 to 1 imbalance of prize money that exists between men and women. His defence? Men are faster, stronger and more competitive. They’re the draw!
With Kramer’s condescending parting shot ringing in her ears (“I’ll sure miss your pretty little face”), King stumbles across the “pretty little of face” of hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) with whom she embarks in an unexpected romance. But with the closet tightening its grip ‒ disapproving parents, a homophobic and misogynistic media and the small matter of marriage to her husband Larry (Austin Stowell) ‒ she puts her pubic face before her private feelings with a heartbreaking but familiar knockback: “Whatever I may feel, I can’t act on it” followed by “There’s too much at stake”.
The stake being the titular “Battle of the Sexes” between herself and senior professional tennis player Bobby “I’ll put the show in chauvinist” Riggs (Steve Carell) who challenges her to a $100,00 three-set match billed as “Male chauvinist pig versus hairy legged feminist.” The rest, as they say, is history. Or, rather, her story. And, despite the heavy subject matter, what a fun and engaging story by husband and wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) and the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Slumdog Millionaire Simon Beaufoy who succeed in bringing a third dimension to the clown that is Riggs as well injecting humour into what is often portrayed as the dry politics of “libbers not lobbers”. Ace!
Video courtesy of: Fox Searchlight UK