Venus and Serena Williams’s father Richard resolved that his daughters would become tennis stars before they were even born, said David Sexton in the New Statesman. Having seen Virginia Ruzici win $40,000 in a tournament, he drew up a 78-page life plan for the girls, which was then “rigorously” enforced. King Richard follows his efforts to “stick to the plan”, from the sisters’ childhood years in Compton, California, to 1994, when Venus made her professional debut at the age of 14. The film, starring Will Smith in the title role, has been endorsed by the family, so it’s “feel-good through and through”: this is no exposé of overweening parental ambition. It’s not even really about tennis. What we have here is yet “another rehearsal of the American dream” – a study of how the individual can achieve the impossible, “whatever the adverse circumstances”.
All that is cool and slick in Smith has been rolled up and stuffed out of sight, said Clarisse Loughrey in The Independent. “Decades of pricey skincare routines” are hidden beneath under-eye circles; his shoulders are slouched throughout. Yet what makes him such a “ferocious asset” to the film is the one thing that can’t be scrubbed out: that he is a “true movie star in an age where there are diminishingly few”. He has a command and presence here that give the film the lifeblood it needs to triumph. This “extraordinary tale of one man’s obsession” is far too long, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. Even so, I enjoyed it. For anyone who loves sport, it’s “irresistible” – and Smith is “terrific”, nailing the stooped and bandy-legged lope that has been such a regular sight at tennis tournaments for the past 25 years. “I confess that I wiped away a tear once or twice.”