Five tennis films
Strangers on a Train (1951)
What’s it about? Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this tells the story of a supposed pact that a tennis player makes with a stranger to commit “a criss-cross murder”. Or as the Guardian once put it, the story of “a nice guy tennis player who becomes embroiled in a reciprocal murder scheme”. (This isn’t the only Hitchcock film to feature a tennis player, as there was also one in ‘Dial M for Murder’, which had “a washed-up tennis star trying to murder his wife Grace Kelly for the insurance money – mainly plausible because this was before tennis went professional and back then players couldn’t serve and volley their way to independent wealth”).
Any good? A Hitchcock classic. “Game, set and match to Hitchcock: best-ever movie with a tennis player in the lead,” wrote Jasper Rees of The Telegraph.
Match Point (2005)
What’s it about? A retired tennis player (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) falls for Scarlett Johansson’s character.
Any good? “The basic problem from the outset,” wrote Philip French of the Observer, “is that Woody Allen, so much at home with the mores, pretensions and idioms of his native New York, is an ugly duckling out of water in England. Everyone talks in clumsy, lumbering dialogue that draws unintentional laughter: ‘I’ve got to meet my wife at Tate Modern. There’s a new painter she wants to show me’; ‘I think we should go for a ride tomorrow morning. We’ve got some wonderful new horses’; ‘You could have been a poet with the racket the way Laver was.’” The Telegraph’s Jasper Rees called this “an embarrassing double fault”.
What’s it about? The story of “an attractive but directionless tennis hustler”.
Any good? “It isn’t exactly boring,” said the New York Times. “It’s pretty and painless and instantly forgettable.” The Telegraph called it “a gloop-coated soap, very much a second-round loser”.
Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951)
What’s it about? “An intriguing little melodrama about an ambitious, domineering mother who pushes her daughter to become a tennis champion, only to accuse her of ingratitude when she falls in love and tires of the tournament circuit,” Timeout have said. “Rather like a Mildred Pierce of the sporting world, but with sympathies reversed.”
Any good? “Probably the truest ever cinematic portrait of the forces that shape the mentality of a tennis player,” wrote one critic.
What’s it about? The improbable/heart-warming/ludicrous tale of the British player (Paul Bettany) who gets the girl (Kirsten Dunst) and wins Wimbledon.
Any good? “More raspberries than strawberries for this romcom,” one critic wrote. “The only way an Englishman is ever going to win Wimbledon is in a fantastical concoction like this.”