Battle Of The Sexes – 1972. Billie Jean King is the number one female tennis player in the world, but she’s still paid far less than her male colleagues. In protest she and a group of other players start their own tournament. Meanwhile former men’s champion and gambling addict Bobby Riggs comes up with the idea of an exhibition match between himself and one of the top women’s players, to reinvigorate his career and prove men’s sporting superiority.

Battle of the Sexes (2017) – Director: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton  


battle of the sexes suitable for children

By Source, Fair use,

Rating: 12A 

Running Length: 121 mins 

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Bill Pullman 

Genre: Sports, Drama 


Imagine if this film had been released just over a year ago, as the Trump-Clinton election campaign reached fever pitch. There are a remarkable number of parallels with this story: the comical, gleefully offensive man delighting in provoking the competent and serious woman; the sexism and sense of entitlement. Fortunately this story has a more uplifting ending… 

The world of early 70s America is expertly but subtly evoked, not so much through gaudy costume design or crashingly obvious music choices as through cultural details such as the promotion of smoking and the deadpan seriousness with which men exclude and belittle women in almost everything they say to them. Emma Stone and Steve Carell both give committed performances which are a pleasure to watch, and there are some strong supporting turns from the likes of Bill Pullman, Sarah Silverman and Elisabeth Shue. Stone’s part is the less showy but she still makes a strong impression, conveying both steely resolve and the emotional turmoil underneath the usually calm exterior. Carell’s part is more flamboyant and comedic, but he also manages to suggest an inner sadness in the scenes dealing with his estranged wife and son. 

There’s surprisingly little tennis action for most of the movie, with the relationships and off-court media circus being the film’s focus. But when the climactic match does arrive it’s well-staged and convincing, and shot in a clean, unfussy way, much as you would see it live on TV at the time. And in spite of the fact that we know the result already, it manages to ramp up the tension and emotion quite effectively. 

Still, there is an inescapable feeling that there is a little lack of depth and bite here. The points scored by the film are relatively easy ones (sexism is bad, gay rights need to be recognised), but other aspects of the story are disappointingly under explored – such as how King’s apparently saintly and forgiving husband really felt about her outed lesbianism. You know that a film covering real life events has missed something when some of the most interesting-sounding narrative appears in the end-of-film captions summarising what happened after the credits rolled. 


The main sponsor of the women’s tennis tournament is a tobacco company and at various moments the players’ manager is not only seen smoking but actively encourages some of the players to smoke for the TV cameras, so as to promote the cigarette brand. 

Throughout the film men are derogatory towards women, explicitly denigrating (although without much in the way of bad language) their professional and personal ambitions. A man says that he likes women in the kitchen and the bedroom. Swearing is limited to the occasional mild to moderate curse.

Two female characters share an intimate seduction scene which involves lengthy close-ups of passionate kissing. At one point we see one of them start to unzip the other’s dress, but the scene cuts before we see anything else, although it is implied that sex will take place. The next morning they are in bed and it is implied that one woman is naked under her sheets, although all we see are her bare shoulders. The other woman is seen wearing a shirt and underwear. In a later scene they hold hands and briefly kiss in silhouette. 

A costume designer and his assistant are clearly in a gay relationship although this is never explicitly seen or acknowledged in the dialogue. At the end of the film he tells Billie Jean King that one day he believes that people will be free to be who they are and love who they want. 

A man poses nude for a promotional photograph, but his legs are crossed and a tennis racket is held over his groin, so no genitalia are visible. 

A man is seen taking large amounts of vitamin pills and other supplements provided by a doctor in order to increase his stamina. He also attends a meeting for gambling addicts and ends up encouraging them to gamble more. Later he is shamed and kicked out by his wife after he wins a car from a friend as part of a bet. 

A woman is seen upset and crying at a few key moments, such as when her husband discovers her infidelity.


Battle of the Sexes is an involving and enjoyable drama which is sadly just as relevant today as it was 45 years ago. Some younger children may feel uncomfortable with the passionate kissing scene (whether straight or gay) and parents may want to talk to them afterwards about the smoking and gambling, but otherwise this is fairly inoffensive and is safe for children aged 10 and over. 

  • Violence: 0/5 
  • Emotional Distress:1/5 (a major character cries when she discovers that her husband is aware of her infidelity, and cries with relief and exhaustion after the climactic match) 
  • Fear Factor: 0/5  
  • Sexual Content: 2/5 (several scenes of passionate lesbian kissing with implied after scene sex, characters in bed together covered only with sheets, partial male nudity) 
  • Bad Language: 1/5 (infrequent mild to moderate profanity) 
  • Dialogue:2/5 (verbal references to homosexuality, divorce, frequent sexist and misogynist remarks) 
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of sexism, lesbianism, infidelity, gambling, features characters promoting smoking and performance-enhancing drugs 

GUEST POST – Words by Simon Litton

Simon is a father and Brussels based blogger who contributes movie reviews to ITMS on a sporadic basis. Why he didn’t do a review for the Belgian detective focused ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ is a mystery you will have to address to him directly. His blog can be viewed here:


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