Companionship derived through pure love is tough at the best of times, but for the likes of Richard and Mildred Loving their struggles were not through their own devotion to each other, but rather the inter-racial marriage laws in certain parts of America in the 1950s. Still somehow relevant today, the notion that two people who just want to be together but instead have to be hauled to jail and soon the Supreme court is an upsetting, sorry state of affairs. I’m sure many before have tried and failed, love had not conquered, and that is nothing to celebrate, but with the film Loving, and ever since it fluttered at Cannes, audiences have been smitten by the smallest, and yet grandest, of victories of the heart.
Jeff Nichols’ second film of 2016 (following Midnight Special) depicts the Lovings as they fall in love, expect their first child, before deciding to marry. Given the absurd laws in 1958 Virginia, they travel to Washington instead to the perform a low-key ceremony. They are soon arrested on their return for breaching marital laws of the state, one enforcer in particular exudes a kind of disgust that a white man and black woman can share the same bed. The Lovings sadly have to go through the criminal justice motions, pleading guilty of course, and face the potential prospect of not returning to their home and family for 25 years should they continue to live as husband and wife. Richard and Mildred, small town folk unaccustomed to the big bad world, proceed towards an endured conclusion where they can hope to live harmoniously together without the ludicrous laws or prejudices halting them.
Nichols writes and directs with plenty of space for his actors to breathe and express their love and pain, giving the Lovings the full width of their human story. Paced so steadily, the film is in danger of stopping altogether at rare times, but it would not have been as affecting or true had it gone for the throat of high drama or steam-rolled through the facts. Loving is delicate, honest, and heart-warming, beautifully played by its leads. Joel Edgerton does rough around the edges quite marvelously, and here he is driven by Richard’s unequivocal adoration of his wife. Ruth Negga is far more subtle and endearing, her timid, quietly determined portrayal of Mildred punches above its weight, defeating all doubt or restrictions and leaving the obvious, idyllic notion, on this occasion, the winner. All you need is love.