500 Days Of Film Reviews True Life Drama, Loving, Starring Ruth Negga And Joel Edgerton
When Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving got married in 1958 they could not have imagined the impact that their relationship would have on the US Constitution.
At the time, in their home state of Virginia, interracial marriage was illegal under miscegenation laws. As a result, in the middle of the night just five weeks after their marriage in Washington DC, Richard and Mildred were arrested.
Thrown into jail they faced an agonising choice. Plead not guilty and risk significant jail time or plead guilty and accept a one year suspended jail term with the provision that they “both leave the state of Virginia at once and do not return together or at the same time to said county and state for a period of twenty-five years”*.
Recording guilty pleas, the couple moved to Washington DC. However, Mildred became deeply unhappy, missing her family and her home. In desperation, she wrote a letter to US Attorney General Robert F Kennedy, who passed it on to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU took the Loving’s case all the way to the US Supreme Court where, after a four year legal battle, the Court ruled in their favour and held that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional.
Is It Any Good?
The Loving’s story is shocking and incredibly sad. This couple had caused harm to no one and yet their own country’s legal system seemed hell bent on tearing them apart. Their crimes? Falling in love, getting married and creating a family.
While Richard and Mildred's marriage and subsequent arrest took place almost 60 years ago, the themes underpinning their plight feel so relevant today. Recognising this, Colin Firth and Ged Doherty (of Raindog Films) approached Jeff Nichols with the idea of turning the Loving's powerful life story into a film.
In an interview in Sight & Sound (Feb 2017 issue), Nichols talks about writing Loving: “I knew it would open with ‘I’m pregnant’ and I knew it would end with a photo of them,” the director explains. “I typed Mildred into the computer and there’s this blinking line, and now I’m supposed to put words into her mouth. It was a bit paralysing because who the hell am I to do this?”
After a year of meticulous research, Nichols decided to focus not on the Loving’s legal case but on the couple themselves. As a result, (and rather refreshingly) the film lacks the grandstanding drama that we have come to expect from movies in this true life/against the odds genre.
Ruth Negga is wonderful as Mildred - a picture of determined grace. Meanwhile, Joel Edgerton’s portrayal of Richard conveys the strain (and creeping paranoia) of the ever present legal threat and also his discomfort amid increasing media attention. Both performances are impressive and feel authentic, particularly when you look at footage of the couple from that time.
At its heart, Loving is a powerful love story. However, Nichols does not attempt to recreate the passion or spark of Richard and Mildred's relationship. Instead, he tells a restrained, understated story of an ordinary, intensely private couple. Sadly, this restraint threatens our enjoyment of his film.
Perhaps a result of his initial paralysis, Nichols falls short of breathing life into Mildred and Richard's story. He seems reluctant to pry into the Loving’s private life and comes close to smothering his film as a result.
Despite this, Loving is an important film and a powerful (and timely) reminder of the pain and suffering caused by discrimination.
Loved Michael Shannon’s cameo as LIFE photographer, Grey Villet. Shannon has featured in all of Jeff Nichols’ movies.
*Quotation taken from Judge Leon Bazile. You can read his full judgement here.
Jeff Nichols is one of my favourite directors. I would highly recommend all of his past films. If you would like to find out more, just click here: Director Focus - Jeff Nichols.
Have you seen Loving? If you have, what did you think about this film? Let me know in the comments section below.