Is love a privilege reserved for a few lucky people? Is it a social requirement or a personal choice? Is it a feeling or an asset? Is it free or is it circumspect? What about marriage? Nowadays we have a broad and inclusive concept of love and its intimate associate called marriage, and we tend to accept and celebrate nearly every shape and form of thise. But this wasn’t the in many parts of the US in the 1950s, before the Civil Rights Movement took off.
At the age of 18, Mildred (Ruth Negga) fell in love and became pregnant with Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) in Caroline County, Virginia. Mildred was a person “of colour”, while Richard was white. In June 1958, the couple traveled to Washington, D.C. in order to get married, thereby evading Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made marriage between whites and non-whites a crime punishable by law. They were eventually arrested and sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for 25 years under the condition that they abandoned the state immediately. So they left their families behind and promptly moved to Washington DC. They were arrested again when they returned to Virginia so that Mildred could give birth to her first child at home.
They were cleared when their lawyer intervened, saying that he mistakingly advised the couple that they could come back for a brief visit. They then settled in Washington DC, where they had three children and constantly longed for the homeland in Virginia. Washington and Virginia are neighbouring states, but yet they couldn’t be more distant for the Lovings, who were not allowed to visit their friends and relatives. It’s as if there was a wall between the two federal states, not too different from the wall that Donald Trump wants to build on the border with Mexico, or the wall that Salma Hayek had to break down in Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta, 2017). All three are racial segregation walls, ugly scars on the face of a country that likes to describe itself as the “land of the free”.
Fortunately, the winds of change blew in favour of the Lovings in the following decade, as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum. Lawyer Bernard S. Cohen (Nick Kroll) took interest in their case, and eventually tokk it to the US Supreme Court. The consequent ruling in their favour was a landmark civil rights decision: it invalidated all laws prohibiting interracial marriage – odious legislation with origins deeply rooted in slavery – in the entire American territory.
Sadly, times have changed again and now the winds of racism and bigotry have now turned around and they are ready to devastate the US. On November 8th 2016, 50.3% of Caroline Country voted put a white, deeply racist, divisive and segregationist president in the White House, and as we all know Donald Trump was inaugurated just two weeks ago. These tragic developments make Loving far more urgent and significant.
Jeff Nichols’s hand is subtle and elegant, very respectful of the subject. The filmmaker makes an effort to be neither intrusive and exploitative. The movie if flooded with effusive natural lighting – something he had done in last year’s Midnight Special (click here for our exclusive review of his previous movie), which gives it a warm and vaguely ethereal atmosphere to the movie. The two leads deliver quiet and taciturn performances to match the gentle narrative. The Lovings were known to be reserved and camera-shy, and Richard refused to be described as a hero. The only problem is that they are so timid that at times it feels like there is little chemistry between the two actors.
Loving is not a melodrama, full of vigour and flare. It’s instead a film effective in its delicateness at dealing with such an urgent subject matter. It’s out in UK cinemas on Friday February 3rd, and you can watch the movie trailer below before heading to the cinema: