Living in a time where people, on the whole, don’t look twice at an interracial couple, a same sex relationship or a transgender union, it’s easy to forget that not too long ago many people were denied the basic right to marry the person they love.
In new movie Loving we’re quickly reminded this wasn’t always the case, with the film shining a harsh light on just how unjust the world has been to its citizens.
Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ethiopian- Irish actress Ruth Negga) Loving are a couple living in ‘50s Virginia. While not technically in the South of America, the state is Southern in attitude and culture, and Virginia absolutely does not tolerate the marriage of mixed race couples. After falling pregnant, Richard proposes to Mildred and the pair travel to Washington, D.C. where they tie the knot legally. The Lovings happily begin married life back home in Caroline County, but neighbours aren’t so liberal with their views, and after getting a tip off, racist cops kick the door down of the their bedroom door as the newlyweds sleep, and drag them into a prison cell.
In order to escape jail time, Richard and Mildred are ordered to leave Virginia for 25 years. Saying goodbye to their family and friends, they move in with a friend in Washington, but unhappy with city life, Richard and Mildred sneak back home for the birth of their first child with the help of Richard’s midwife mother. Arrested again but let off with the help of their lawyer, the Lovings know they can never return home.
Negga is brilliant in the role
Years pass, with the family growing from three to five, but Mildred never feels settled in Washington and longs for country life. In a bid to regain control she writes to Bobby Kennedy, Attorney General at the time, and is surprised to learn that her letter has been referred to the American Civil Liberties Union. From here, with the help of lawyers Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Philip Hirschkop (Jon Bass), the Lovings are about to change history.
Loving tells an important story, one that shaped the American constitution, but it takes its time getting there. It’s slow moving and on the whole quite calm. While it feels as though writer and director Jeff Nichols stayed true to the real story, the feature could also have been made with more action. In the way that race relation films like Selma and The Color Purple sucker punch you in the gut, Loving seems to tap mildly on your shoulder and therefore has a slower burn after the credits have rolled.
That has a lot to do with the lead characters; while Richard, a small town construction worker and played well by Edgerton, sees nothing wrong with being with a black woman, he doesn’t have the fire in his belly to really fight the system. You yearn for him to stand up to local lawmakers, but he shies away from all confrontation. Mildred is the one who drives the case forward. She does so with a quiet dignity. Negga is brilliant in the role, and conveys a lot more with her facial expression than the words she speaks. She thoroughly deserves her Best Actress Oscars nod, but it’s unsurprising the film didn’t receive any more nominations.
The film is devoid of much background noise, apart from the constant chirping of crickets in Virginia. While this was no doubt intended to convey the sleepy country life, the silence is almost oppressing at times. When music is occasionally used, the scenes are brought to life, so it’s a shame more wasn’t added.
Loving is an interesting story with solid performances, but more mainstream cinema fans could well need more action to bring it to life for them.
Read about Ruth Negga and the other two Academy Award nominees from Ireland here: www.theirishworld.com/ruth-negga