Richard and Mildred Loving are a very unassuming couple; the kind you probably wouldn’t give a second glance if you passed them on the street, for they both seem by their natures to fold in on themselves, shy of any unnecessary attention. Ironic, then, that they had the eyes of the nation on them when their legal case when all the way to the US Supreme Court, and changed the course of American history forever.
For Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) were from different races, he white and she black, and at the time that they fell in love, in the 1950s, segregation was still widely enforced across the 50 states. Their marriage forced them out of their home state of Virginia, away from their families, until Mildred refused to abide by city life in nearby Washington and their case was adopted by the American Civil Liberties Union (the very same organisation who have been fiercely fighting the recent Executive Orders from the newly elected POTUS).
Loving tells this remarkable story with a reserve and dignity that is extraordinarily unusual within Hollywood filmmaking, and even in the context of director Jeff Nichols’ more elemental storytelling seen in the likes of Take Shelter and Midnight Special. Nichols’ screenplay eschews dramatics to the very end, entirely avoiding the traditional courtroom pleas and insisting upon the emotional reticence of the Lovings’ private natures.
Nichols is beautifully enabled by the exceptional performances of his two lead actors. Edgerton makes Richard’s insular moodiness soft in its masculinity; he never feels threatening, but his reluctance to engage always seem driven by a protective instinct, with the actor holding himself with a poised intensity that keeps everyone but Mildred and his mother at an arm’s length. Negga is, by a hair, even better; she communicates so much through the tiniest subtleties in her eyes and body language that the audience feels an intimacy, a sympathy and a familiarity that earns an emotional triumph Mildred herself barely permits from her own mind.
Loving feels remarkably pertinent in the unfortunate political moment we find ourselves in, but the film is so unassuming, so muted in its power that it never feels like any kind of dogmatic statement. Instead, the emotional power emanates from the graceful understatement of the performances and the quietly observant filmmaking, allowing the film to linger with the audience and leave them with the impression of the Lovings as a couple who lived as normal, everyday people, their lives politicised by exterior forces they would rather ignore. As we all might wish to, but never can, and must continue to fight with the same dignity as this remarkable couple.
Loving is in cinemas now.