Release date: 3rd February 2017/Watch the trailer here
Jeff Nichols has established himself as a writer and director over the last five years with his films Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special, all of which have been understated, personal stories set in rural America. His latest, Loving, is no exception, apart from this time Nichols is telling a true story: that of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple in 1960s Virginia, whose challenge of their arrest for their marriage led to a legal battle that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Loving opens with Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) already in a relationship, with Mildred pregnant with their first child and Richard ready to propose. The couple are, of course, the beating heart of the entire film, and part of what makes Loving so effective is that it wastes no time in establishing how their relationship came to be. Instead, it relies on the subtle performances of Edgerton and Negga, who are never anything less than convincing when it comes to being in love. The sort of conflict that seems so imminent – given the way that the large majority of onscreen relationships in films and television are portrayed – never comes. Edgerton and Negga play their roles with no fuss or melodrama; just a married couple who love each other and want to raise their children in the countryside.
This quiet calmness feels jarring at times as the Lovings continue to remain passive, even in the face of some of the horrific things that they were subjected to (such as being dragged out of bed by the police in the middle of the night and subsequently thrown into jail). However, this does make for an honest portrayal of a couple who never even went to court themselves; who just wanted to be able to live in Virginia and be left alone. It’s a testament to Nichols’ talent, both as a writer and a director, that he was able to tell this story without feeling the need to sensationalise it or creating a courtroom drama. Instead, the actual Supreme Court case is treated as a brief subplot, crucial to the Lovings’ story without ever detracting from their very real, very human relationship.
The result makes for a very tactful way of documenting an event that was quietly groundbreaking and thus largely unknown. Loving tells a story that is relevant now more than ever, and as a result it feels surprisingly (and perhaps tragically) contemporary for something that’s set fifty years in the past. It’s a film that is tender and deeply moving, and should further Nichols’ growing reputation as a maker of mature, intelligent films, while also ensuring that Negga’s Academy Award nomination feels more than deserved.