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24 March 2017 Film


It’s hard to believe that as recently as 1958 a married couple in the US could be arrested and jailed for the simple reason that one of them is white and the other is black.

Loving, written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special), tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, humble folk from a small Virginian town, who spent the first nine years of their marriage in exile and hiding from the law. It then explores their civil rights case in the US Supreme Court that eventually overturned the prohibition against interracial marriage in 1967.

What’s most surprising about this deeply moving film is its intimate focus on the bond between Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga), instead of the tense courtroom drama scenes and bench-thumping civil rights speeches such a story might inspire. We spend time with this shy, almost wordless couple whose warm connection seems completely natural. Richard is a burly bricklayer with a sideline in racing hotrod cars, while Mildred is a gentle beauty, close to her large family.

When they find Mildred is pregnant, Richard organises a civil marriage ceremony in Washington because there’s “less red tape” there, and tacks up the certificate in their bedroom, as if this might protect them from harm. But they’re soon arrested and imprisoned by the local sheriff (Marton Czokas) until they can post bail, with the judge releasing them on suspended sentences as long as they both leave the state and never return for 25 years.

The film skilfully evokes the loss involved in the couple’s forced move from the peaceful countryside with its rolling cotton fields and extended family networks, to the busy city, where the cramped spaces and dangerous streets are unacceptable to Mildred as she tries to raise their quickly growing family.

Her desperation forces her to reach out to lawyers (Nick Kroll and Jon Bass) and to agree to media coverage that the intensely private Richard resents and fears. Michael Shannon is excellent in cameo as the affable LIFE photographer who famously captured the Lovings laughing on their couch, Richard with his head resting on Mildred’s lap.

Perhaps it’s the film’s greatest achievement that we only once hear the husband declaring his love (and then, only to a lawyer). Yet we never doubt it. True love is written into every scene, like a simple black-and-white fact that can’t be denied.

by Rochelle Siemienowicz
» Loving is out now.

Rochelle Siemienowicz