Battle of the Sexes (12A) ★★★★☆

HOT on the heels of another tennis biopic, Borg vs McEnroe, is this well-acted and thematically compelling crowd-pleaser from husband and wife directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. It focuses on the 1973 exhibition match which pitted former female world number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) against the openly chauvinistic former champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

The point of Riggs’s proposed match was, to paraphrase the man himself, to show that women just weren’t up to the task of competing on the same level as the men. That they deserve less prize money, that they were less interesting to watch play, that they just don’t have what it takes. In broadly entertaining strokes the film tackles issues that are still vitally relevant to today’s Trumpian world.

It’s concerned not so much with the match itself, which is presented far more formally than you might expect, and more with the drama around and leading up to it – in essence it’s not really about tennis at all. We see how Riggs soaks up the limelight that his suggested cross-gender match brings him, with Carell perfectly cast and chewing up the scenery with a fittingly over-the-top performance as this buffoonish, self-styled chauvinistic serial hustler.

In contrast we witness the biased uphill struggle that King faces in even attempting to step on to the court with a man, as well as how she feels burdened to keep her sexual orientation and blossoming relationship with hair stylist Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) a secret from her husband Larry (Austin Stowell) and the world at large.

King is something of a larger than life figure that could have led to a caricatur-ish portrayal but Stone imbues the role with great sensitivity, immense charm and quiet power.