Richard and Mildred Loving were a mixed race couple from rural Virginia who fell in love and wanted to make a life for themselves surrounded by family, on an acre of land on which Richard intended to build Mildred a house. But in 1958, inter-racial marriage was illegal in Virginia, so they had to get married in DC, and even then, were victims of local police who imprisoned them and ran them out of the state. And there they could've stayed were it not for this quiet and unassuming couple's deep desire to raise their children in their home town - their quiet stubborn refusal to be denied their dream. So they returned, in subterfuge, and Mildred, the more vocal and gregarious of the two, wrote a letter to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. This was then passed to the ACLU, who took up the case as a way of getting the Supreme Court to over-turn anti-miscegenation laws more generally.
The genius of writer-director Jeff Nichols' approach is to make a film that is an intimate portrait of a loving couple, and to follow their approach in being resolutely uninterested in the big courtroom drama that their marriage provoked. There's a moment about half way through this film when the two young eager ACLU lawyers show up, full of glee and awe at being able to try what could become such a landmark case. But the Lovings themselves are uninterested even in attending the Supreme Court hearing. They continue to do what they always wanted to do - just live a quiet married life in a quiet rural town.
As a result LOVING isn't a self-consciously important earnest court-room drama, with every cliche attendant on that genre. It's an intimate portrait of an ordinary couple who refuse to be made extraordinary by prejudice or its overthrow. And in taking this approach, Jeff Nichols makes a point more powerful than any grandstanding speech - that love is where it falls. And one can imagine a certain type of audience that wouldn't seek out this film but that would do well to see an unassuming every day kind of love between a white man and a black woman, or between two men or two women....
Ruth Negga is being spoken of for Oscar glory and her performance is superb. But I actually feel that it's Joel Edgerton who deserves the recognition. Because playing an inarticulate, almost simple but steadfast character is far harder than playing one who speaks. At times, Richard Loving seems genuinely awkward at the thought of pursuing his case through the courts. And yet Edgerton's extraordinary physical performance conveys as much love, hurt, confusion, and devotion as any I've seen on screen. And of course, when does finally say something - it's heartbreaking.
LOVING has a running time of 123 minutes and is rated PG-13. The movie played Cannes and Toronto 2016 and was released last year in the USA. It opened last week in Spain. It opens in the UK, Ireland and Norway on February 3rd; in Israel on February 9th; in France and Switzerland on February 15th; in Estonia on February 17th; in Germany and the Netherlands on February 23rd; in Japan on March 3rd; and in Australia and Italy on March 16th.