I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia before seeing the poignant film from director Jeff Nichols (Mud). I’m not alone, though─Nichols hadn’t either.
Once producers showed him Nancy Buirski’s award-winning documentary The Loving Story, he knew he had to write and direct the film, and we’re all the better for it. Just as relevant today as the events of the case were forty years ago, Loving is not only a moving history lesson, it’s also as true and tender a love story as you’re likely to see this year.
Starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving, the film chronicles the interracial couple’s struggles as they defy Virginia law and decide that all they want to do is be with each other, and who the heck is anyone to tell them they can’t? Almost immediately after their 1958 wedding in Washington DC, both are arrested. As part of their plea deal, they avoid significant jail time by agreeing to move out of Virginia for a term of twenty-five years.
But when they return home shortly after for the birth of their first child, they’re arrested again, setting the wheels in motion for the almost decade-long legal fight that eventually went all the way to the nation’s highest court.
Loving isn’t about legal ramblings, though, and it barely touches on the racism that existed in the country at that time; it’s a movie about a man and a woman who just want to live together as man and wife. When their case actually goes to the Supreme Court, both Lovings decline to attend, and when asked by his lawyers if they can pass on any message to the justices, Richard says simply, “Tell the judge I love my wife.”
Edgerton and Negga share a level of true chemistry not often seen in film, and it grounds the story, keeping it intimate and personal, even as we’re well aware of the historical significance of what’s unfolding. Their performances are both wonderfully understated as the pair just go through their lives as two married people.
Nichols gets high marks for his approach to the film, both behind the camera and in his screenplay. Though we’re never shown a Mississippi Burning-type moment, there’s a strong undercurrent of fear and suspense throughout; we’re never quite sure what (or who) might be around the corner for the Lovings. David Wingo’s sparse score only heightens the tension.
In the end, Loving is as simple as can be. It’s a love story, exquisitely told and brilliantly acted─a film for the ages that never loses its laser-sharp focus on one man and one woman who changed the country.