Loving – Film Review by Pat V.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton
It is shocking to think that it was only in 1967, 50 years ago, that the United States Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws – the ban on marriage between people of different races – unconstitutional throughout the whole country. Before that a mixed-race couple who married in a state where inter-racial marriage was legal could be arrested and imprisoned if they crossed into any of the 16 states where not only marriage but any form of sexual encounter between people of different races was prohibited. Director Jeff Nichols’s film, Loving, is the real-life story of the mixed-race couple at the centre of the Supreme Court case which led to this change in the law.
Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white construction worker in Caroline County, Virginia, grew up in the same community as black woman, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga). In 1958, when the film begins, Virginia was one of the states that upheld strong anti-miscegenation legislation. When Richard and Mildred fall in love and decide to get married, the families of both are aware of the social and legal problems they are bound to face. Unable to marry in Virginia they go to Washington but on their return, they are both arrested by the local sheriff and thrown into prison.
The film tells their story from the time of their marriage in 1958 to the eventual change in the law in 1967 that allowed them live together without fear of arrest or persecution. Having neither the means nor the education to take their case to court, it was only when Mildred wrote for help to Attorney-General, Bobby Kennedy, that American Civil Liberties Union became involved and the couple were able to mount a legal challenge. Living in hiding with their three children and risking arrest at any moment, they persevered with their case in spite of the negative reactions they often had to face.
Edgerton and Negga are both superb in the central roles and it is no surprise that both were nominated for a Golden Globe Award. They give quiet, internalised performances and a palpable bond and chemistry between the two characters is never in doubt. As the inarticulate but determined Richard, Edgerton captures the tension and constant sense of responsibility that the character feels for his family. Negga is mesmerising throughout. From the opening scene where she nervously tells Richard she is pregnant for the first time to when, a mother of three children, she is no longer willing to accept the restraints of an unfair law, she communicates her every emotion by a glance, a gesture, a shift of the head. Her unmistakable promise on the Abbey’s stage and in television shows like Love Hate is now being realised and this performance suggests that there are even greater things to come.
The film never resorts to the over-dramatisation or sentimentality we often associate with American dramas but nonetheless the audience is kept on the edge of their seats as we truly come to care for the characters and their fate. While at heart a political drama, Nichols chooses to focus here on the human dimension and delivers a subtle and underplayed film that is moving and unforgettable. This is one you should definitely not miss.