"Should be seen by everyone, even if Wimbledon isn’t your favourite time of year...."

Before it was a film, The Battle of the Sexes was a real-life legendary tennis match, on which this film is based, between tennis legend and woman’s rights activist, Billie Jean King and self-proclaimed Male-Chauvinist Pig, Bobby Briggs. For King, the match was fundamentally important to the future of woman’s tennis. For Briggs, it was a sweet chance to prove, once and for all, that women are nothing but laughable, whether on or off the court – and to make a few bucks whilst he’s at it.

The story may seem insignificant outside the world of tennis, but this is about much more than tennis. This was 1973, a time of social revolution, where gender equality was finally starting to be taken seriously. The rapidity of this change made the shift difficult for many who were still disturbed by the girls now sitting alongside them at law school. For them, Bobby Briggs was a hero. His clownish mockery of women made it OK to laugh at the woman’s rights movement. Briggs represented the problem, and for the woman’s libbers to continue to be taken seriously, for them to progress further, he had to be taken down. By winning this match, King could reverse things, and reveal Briggs and those he represented as the real fools.

As a documentary, the film does not play much with the form, being a compilation of interviews with relevant parties, alongside contemporary footage of the tennis and mainstream media of the time. But for all the film’s conventions, this is a story about breaking them, and that, plus an exhilarating selection of archive material, mean the film is never boring. Directors James Erskine and Zara Hayes really ‘smashed it’ (get it?) with their choice of subject; tennis may not be everybody’s game, but its hard not to be hooked on the lurching ups and downs of a really good tennis final. The Battle of the Sexes capitalises on that tension, native to the game, but which is greatly enhanced by the social stakes, made well known to us by the time the final game commences.

There are few sour points to comment on, other than the slight over reliance on Briggs as a comedic element. The contemporary advertising, too, is selected to be the most extremely ridiculous to modern viewers, provoking several chuckles from the audience. Whilst this makes for good fun in the moment, there is a sense that the severity of such chauvinist attitudes is brushed over somewhat. Clearly, things have changed for women since the 60’s, but the ‘battle’ is far from won. The jokes feel a little premature when reading the epilogue text, stating that today woman’s tennis remains the only sport where women and men are paid equally. Billie Jean King’s fight is obviously still relevant. The Battle of the Sexes serves not only as an informative and entertaining piece, but also as a reminder that this is a war that still rages, and, as such, should be seen by everyone, even if Wimbledon isn’t your favourite time of year.