Jeff Nichols’s fact-based interracial drama Loving depicts the intimate relationship of Richard (Joel Edgerton), who is White, and Mildred (Ruth Negga), who is of African-American and Native-American descend, over the course of ten years while the couple was fighting for their right to live in their home state of Virginia as a married couple. The Lovings were the catalysts for the Supreme Court decision that abolished anti-miscegenation laws in the United States in 1967. Although it might seem as if Loving would serve as a justice drama, it rarely features court scenes but focuses on the couple’s relationship and challenges instead. According to Nichols, the first draft of the script ended up being the film’s final script.
Loving is the writer-director’s second film playing at a major festival in 2016. His sci-fi drama Midnight Special premiered earlier this year at the Berlinale and Nichols’ fifth feature Loving is among the competitors for the Palme d’Or in Cannes. With three out of five films screening in Cannes, Nichols can be called a festival regular: Take Shelter won the Critics Week Grand Prize in 2011 while Mud premiered in the Official Competition the following year.
Edgerton, who previously worked with Nichols in Midnight Special, and Negga are perfectly cast as Richard and Mildred.
Loving picks up in 1958 when Richard and Mildred are expecting their first child and get married. Since they are unable to wed in the segregated state of Virginia, they officially get married in Washington D.C. and return home to live with Mildred’s family until they have a place of their own. Shortly after their return they get arrested and prosecuted under the Virginian miscegenation law - indicted for violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act - and are sentenced to five years in prison unless they plead guilty and agree to leave the state for 25 years and do not return together or at the same time. Eventually they relocate to Washington D.C. where they live with Mildred’s cousin. Over the years they raise their family - consisting of three children - in the city until Mildred cannot stand living so far away from their families and their actual hometown any longer and they decide to return to the countryside to live in secrecy in a farmhouse in Virginia.
The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) gets interested in their case after Mildred writes a letter to the United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, asking if he can help them out so they can legally live in Virginia again. The Lovings are assigned to ACLU attorney Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and civil rights lawyer Philip Hirschkop (Jon Bass), who work pro bono for the couple. In 1967 their case is appealed at the Supreme Court and all anti-miscegenation laws are issued as unconstitutional and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equality.
Loving reunites Nichols with his regular collaborator Michael Shannon, who appeared in all of his five feature films to date. He plays Grey Villet, a photographer for Life magazine, who accompanies the Lovings and shoots intimate pictures for the magazine’s article “The Crime of Being Married”.
Unfortunately, Nichol’s film neglects to establish certain aspects that seem crucial to the story and its historical background […]
Edgerton, who previously worked with Nichols in Midnight Special, and Negga are perfectly cast as Richard and Mildred. Richard is portrayed as rather introverted and a man of few words. His character is therefore mainly established through his body language and his physical appearance. He feels uncomfortable in pursuing legal matters and simply wants to provide for his family. As a brick layer, Richard is often seen working on construction sites - a subtle reference to his desire to build and provide a safe home for his family. Despite being a calm and quiet person herself, Mildred is the one who takes matters in her own hands and pursues legal actions. However, neither of them is an activist and their actions remain passive and often leave them as flat characters. They made no appeal after they were first arrested for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws and agreed to a plea bargain instead of fighting for their rights immediately. They also did not go public with their case at first and did not attend the hearing in Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Nichol’s film neglects to establish certain aspects that seem crucial to the story and its historical background such as everyday racism in the 1960s as well as the actual legal situation in Virginia.
Similar to its calm and even-tempered protagonists, Loving is told in a quiet and consistent pace and tells the intimate story of a couple fighting for equality before the law.