Loving, writer/director Jeff Nichols’ fifth film (made back-to-back with his science fictional Midnight Special) is a biographical drama that follows the facts closely and carefully, and yet this isn’t just a story about love, prejudice and digging up past shame: it’s actually all about marriage equality.
Richard Loving (Aussie Joel Edgerton, also in Midnight Special) is a white construction worker from Caroline County, Virginia, in the later 1950s, who falls for family friend Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga, an Oscar nominee), a young black woman, of course. When she discovers she’s pregnant and they decide to marry, they know that ‘miscegenation’ is a crime thereabouts, drive to Washington to get hitched, and return to find themselves hounded by the police and charged by a judge whose racist views are validated, he thinks, by the Bible (and funny about that).
With a one year prison sentence suspended if they agree to leave the state, the Lovings move to Washington to live with Mildred’s friends, and when their first child is born and, later, as those winds of 1960s change start moving across America, they keep risking everything by coming back home. Bobby Kennedy gets involved, a reporter from Life magazine (played by Nichols’ favourite actor Michael Shannon) turns up for a famous profile, and the cautious, subtle mood never quite falters, despite the obvious potential for real anger here.
With fine playing by Shannon (also in Midnight Special) in only a cameo and formidably controlled Kiwi actor Marton Csokas as the repellent Sheriff Brooks, this is nevertheless all about Joel (who somehow even looks American here) and Negga, both of whom were obviously deeply committed to the material and deliver excellent performanaces.
And isn’t it a relief to know that in these enlightened contemporary times race and colour are no longer such issues, and that we’re all free to marry whomever we like?
Rated PG. Loving is in cinemas now.