Jeff Nichols latest film Loving follows the decade long fight to overturn the Virginian laws that prohibit interracial marriage. The most fascinating thing about the film is that the couple at the core did not set out to change the constitution, their goals where much smaller. They simply wanted to live a quiet life together, without harming or impacting anyone else in the process. Truth be told, the only real crime that Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) committed was falling in love in a time when segregation between “colored” and “white” was the status quo.
After marrying in Washington D.C., the couple was arrested in their home state of Virginia in 1958 as the laws in the state did not recognize interracial marriage. They were sentenced to a year in prison, but had the decision suspended upon agreeing to leave the state and never return. Attempting to build a new for their children, the fact that they could not be near loved ones did not sit well with the couple. Mildred in particular was extremely saddened by the forced exile they endured. Despite being physically free, they were in their own isolated version of prison. No longer willing to be punished for committing no other crime than utilizing their given right to love and marry who they want, and at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the couple began a legal battle that found its way to the US Supreme Court.
One of the startling things throughout Loving is how Jeff Nichols embraces quiet spaces. Similar to its central couple, the film has a reserved nature that is surprisingly powerful. While other biopics of this nature would go for the flashy scenes or the grand Oscar-baiting speeches, Nichols lets his film flow organically. He does not even show the Supreme Court case, instead offering a brief glimpse at the defense’s opening statements before quickly turning the camera back on Richard and Mildred. Make no mistake this film is all about a couple’s unwavering love for each other and their children.
Burdened with carrying the entire film on their shoulders, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are dynamite in their respective roles. They bring a quiet intensity to the film that is tough to shake. Negga in particular is exceptionally good in a role that requires her to convey a vast array of emotions through facial gestures and body language.
Nichols has already proven himself to be a gifted filmmaker who understands the importance of character driven stories, and he does it again here. He takes an important event, one whose ramifications spread across an entire country, and strips it down to an intricate story of love. He even incorporates subtle, and unexpected, moments of humour through Nick Kroll’s great supporting work as Bernie Cohen, the Lovings’ inexperienced but dedicated Civil Rights lawyer. Showing wonderful restraint, and featuring outstanding performances from the leads, Loving reminds us that following one’s heart should never be considered a crime.
This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2016 coverage.