LOVING. Starring: Joel Edgerton, and Ruth Negga. Also starring Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, and Michael Shannon. Directed by Jeff Nichols. Rated PG (Miid themes and coarse language). 123 min.
This American historical drama tells the story of the marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were plaintiffs in the landmark US Supreme Court decision in 1967 that invalidated State laws that prohibited interracial marriage.
The story begins in rural Virginia in 1958. Richard Loving (Australian actor, Joel Edgerton) was a white construction worker in the state of Virginia, USA, who fell in love with, and married, a local African-American woman, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga). The two married in Washington after Mildred became pregnant. Shortly afterwards Richard began building a house for Mildred in their home State, Virginia. He and his wife were arrested one night living together, and when Richard pointed to his marriage licence, the Sheriff informed Richard and Mildred that their marriage certificate was not recognised in Virginia by law. They were subsequently jailed (separately) for their crime. The judge hearing their case suspended their sentence on condition that they agreed not to return to Virginia for 25 years.
The Lovings returned to Virginia to have their first child and narrowly escaped imprisonment on a technicality. After more children were born and raised away from Virginia, Mildred, in desperation, wrote to Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy for help in their being able to return home. Kennedy responded positively, and their case suddenly attracted wide media attention. The state Supreme Court, refused to set aside their conviction, and this paved the way for an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court, which unanimously asserted that any laws that prohibit interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Mildred died in 2008, and Richard before her, and history records that they spent nine years of their life fighting for the right to live in their home state as a family. Their loving union was the catalyst for legal recognition of interracial marriage throughout the US from 1967 onwards.
Edgerton and Nagga play the roles of Frank and Mildred with quiet, reserved dignity. They act a couple, ill at ease with becoming famous, but fame found them. The obvious love of Richard and Mildred for each other radiates throughout the entire movie. They inspire the emotion of hope in each other, and in the viewer as well.
This is a completely unsensational film that aims for total authenticity and is devoid of melodrama. Edgerton's and Nagga's acting is exceptional, and Edgerton gives what must be the performance of his career. The film is powerful and uplifting, and what comes across on screen are not the complexities of the multiple legal challenges that the couple endure, but the positive relationship that exists between two people who love each other deeply. They project courage, commitment and love. Richard knows that Mildred will be safer if he leaves her, but thoughts of that kind are alien to his wanting to protect the woman he loves, and who he has married.
The design of the film is detailed, and the dialogue and acting are implicit rather than explicit. Mildred and Richard express most of what they feel by nonverbal gestures, and the movie seems to speak loudest when neither of them is talking. One expects outrage all the time to erupt in Richard and Mildred, and it hardly ever does. Though the script pulls back on words that express their attachment to each other, both the script and the film project their consideration of each other, and their humanity, in the story it tells.
The film is crafted carefully, subtly and sensitively. It offers a touching, unaffected, and very disciplined account of a major civil rights victory in the US. At its core, however, it is a highly personal story, beautifully acted and sensitively directed, of how two people married to each other, win the fight to rectify major racial injustice.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Entertainment One Films, Released March 16, 2017,