Writer/director Jeff Nichols seems to favour outlaws. Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special all feature protagonists who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Loving is, however, the first time he’s based a film on a true story.
Virginia, 1958. Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) romances his sweetheart Mildred (Ruth Negga), gets her pregnant and then arranges a hasty marriage. So far, so everyday; but it’s not as straightforward as you might suppose. Richard is white and Mildred, African-American. Though they have travelled to the more enlightened Washington DC to get hitched, such a marriage is still deemed illegal in the state of Virginia and almost before they know it, they have been dragged from their bed in the dead of night and slung into jail. The upshot is that they are faced with a difficult choice. They can get the marriage annulled and forget that anything ever happened; or they can leave Virginia for a minimum of 25 years, risking long jail sentences if they are ever reckless enough to return. But the Lovings are made of stern stuff and they vow to live together in Virginia whatever circumstance may throw at them…
It’s staggering to think that only fifty years ago such laws could even have existed and the Loving’s case was eventually the basis of a major change to the American constitution, so this is an important subject. Nichols relates the story in his signature style, taking his own sweet time, steering clear of sensationalism and coaxing superb performances from his lead actors. Neggar has already been rewarded for her efforts with a well-deserved Oscar nomination, but in many ways it’s Edgerton who has the trickier role, portraying a gruff, monosyllabic man who bears the many crosses he is made to carry with exceptional stoicism.
The film’s gentle pace is clearly something that divides people. We’ve rarely witnessed so many walkouts from a movie as We saw on the Friday evening we viewed Loving. But I found the film powerful and eloquent, an excellent addition to Nichols’ growing canon of work. Nice too to see a cameo from the director’s favourite actor, Michael Shannon, as the photographer who takes pictures of the couple for an article in Life Magazine.
Some people change the world in the glare of publicity. Others do it quietly, avoiding the limelight, but their contributions are nonetheless every bit as valuable. Loving is an accomplished film that’s well worth your attention.