Jeff Nichols’ Loving is a humbling tale of an interracial couple’s brutal fight for justice and humanity against the vulgarly outdated laws of 1950s Virginia. The protagonists are Richard and Mildred Loving, who were a real couple and whose story of struggle against the legislation and people of Virginia is told. The pair are played honourably by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, who bring to the screen a dimension of courage and perseverance rare to the stories of any great cinematic hero or heroine.
From the start, Nichols creates a domestic and homely realm of breezy corn fields, New England houses and chequered shirts. Their family homes are in a harmonious neighbourhood; the viewer is presented with TV sets, grocery stores and classic cars that nostalgically warm us into a false sense of optimism and a rosy view of this ’50s Mid-Atlantic state.
The film opens emotively with Mildred announcing her pregnancy, an intimate moment the viewer shares with the couple. This news of a child distances the piece from the hate, barbarism and unlawfulness one may expect from a civil rights film, as does the intimacy of the marriage vows that shortly follow this milestone for the Lovings.
The feel-good element to the film is soon disrupted. Nichols starkly dismantles this concept of family and humanity when, during the night, Richard and Mildred are torn apart at bedside and jailed, marking the start of their nine-year conflict with the law. Labelled as ‘this woman’, it is clear that Mildred is victimised as separate from her husband and seen as inferior to the state, just because of the colour of her skin. It is a profoundly upsetting scene, but powerfully exposes the injustice so central to the story.
The viewer is then delved into the raw struggle. Outcast to Washington DC, Mildred and Richard are condemned to leave their home state by law for twenty five years – it is here that Richard’s dream, a running motif, of building a home in the Virginian countryside by the corn fields, is infected by the cramped and urban life created in the Washington setting.
Tensions are fuelled as the Lovings and Virginian Police play a game of cat and mouse. Dreams of the field-side family home fade into back-road, late night journeys to and from Virginia taken by the fearless couple as they redefine the terms imposed upon their lives. Such resilience lends itself to lawyer and politician Bernie Cohen, who equips the couple for one of the most controversial law suits filed in American history: Loving v. Virginia (1967.)
The calm domesticity of the first half of the film is suddenly lost in a web of media, press and interviews as Richard and Mildred fight graciously a case that will end up at the Supreme Court. The dining room becomes a studio for LIFE Magazine and the Lovings’ children spend their early years playing around the activity of their parents’ fight for civil freedom.
In a twist of plot, Nichols again starkly shifts the journey we follow to remind the viewer of the fragility of humanity when engulfed in a sphere of public intrusiveness. The Lovings’ decision to remove themselves from the Supreme Court case is, I believe, one of the strongest moments in the piece. Nichols gives the viewer access to the intimate moments, unified strength and unconditional love of Richard and Mildred – therefore it is only with relief that at the end of the film we, as viewers, relieve this interrupted love of its burden and give the family back their privacy and dignity.
The film ends with the victory of the Lovings over Virginia state. A film of grace, power and human adoration: Loving is the most emotionally potent film of this year.
Loving will be released on DVD and Blu Ray in the UK on 12th June 2017. Image source: IMDb.com