Cometh the hour, cometh the film
02 February, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in Loving
Directed by Jeff Nichols
THE need for mainstream political cinema that can pull in a wide audience in the US may never be greater than today, and for this reason alone the rather gorgeous love story of the Lovings deserves to be celebrated.
We meet Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) as he sits on the porch in a Deep Southern night, and envelopes his girlfriend’s hand in his: she turns to him and shares the news that she is pregnant, and the silence that engulfs them makes the viewer wonder what catastrophe is about to be unleashed. Instead, the hands grip tighter, smiles break out and it seems that we are being treated to a ringside seat to the happiest moment any couple can share.
But this is the late 1950s in Virginia. Richard is white, Mildred (Ruth Negga) is black, and while the difference in skin tone matters not one iota to them, in the eyes of the law it means the marriage vows they take are null and void. What’s more, the pair are arrested for committing their lives to each other and essentially sent into exile, away from their families and the land they have bought to build a home on.
This true story tracks the way racist state legislation forced the Lovings to stop, stand up and fight, and how they took their case all the way to the Supreme Court.
This film has much to admire about it. Edgerton and Negga are calm and well cast, and director Nichols avoids grandstanding, letting the situation speak for itself. One scene, featuring a visit from a Life magazine photographer, is particularly moving and allows us a glimpse into the private world they inhabit, a world where they do not wish to be seen as famous civil rights activists but just want the chance to build their lives together, raise a family and be left to enjoy their love.
With America currently going through a grotesque reflux of state-backed extremism, films like this take on an added importance. We need to be reminded of the stupidity of racism, reminded of the recent past, and of the need to remain vigilant.
These points are there, but Nichols underplays them well – the Lovings’ story is not told in a Mississippi Burning-type way, there are no Maya Angelou-style soliloquys by Mildred, nor are there tub-thumping statements made by the civil rights lawyers that will make you want a rant.
But that is by-the-by, as this film is just so likeable, so important, and with such a tale that resonates today that its lack of easy-target oomph is not just forgiveable but admirable.