The case of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were sent to prison in 1958 for the simple sin of being married, and their subsequent effort to keep their marriage alive despite every obstacle thrown in their way by the state of Virginia, has now finally been turned into a feature film. It comes nearly 50 years after their landmark case went to the United States Supreme Court and changed the laws of the land for everyone. First starting life as a 2011 HBO documentary The Loving Story, writer-director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) took the potentially combustible material and turned it into a quiet and moving love story with excellent performances from leads Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.
Richard, who was white, and Mildred, who was black, fell in love and got married wanting only to live together and raise a family in their native Virginia. Unfortunately, the state law banning interracial wedlock caught up with them; they were arrested and thrown to the courts, where they were ordered never to set foot together in the state again. It wasn’t long after moving to Washington D.C. that Mildred began missing her family and tried to go back, and they ran into trouble once more. It caused the otherwise demure and unassuming Mildred to write a letter to then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking for help. Incredibly, he got the letter and turned it over to the ACLU, which convinced the very reluctant Lovings to let it take on their case and make it a cause celebre by going all the way to the Supreme Court, where in June 1967 it made history.
As I say in my video review above, there are no histrionics on the part of the Lovings once they make the news and the case becomes a big deal. As Richard says, they just want to be left alone together. His simple instruction to the lawyer representing him is: “Tell the judge I love my wife.” Nichols is a real Southern storyteller, and he has given the movie a true sense of place and time, and especially authenticity. He is also blessed to have the Australian Edgerton and the Ethiopian-Irish Negga as his stars. They never give a hint of their own origins, totally believable in every way as this Virginia couple. Also outstanding is Nick Kroll as the young lawyer who convinces the Lovings to let him and his new colleague take on the case. Marton Csokas as the sheriff is also excellent.
This film could have approached the material in any number of ways. Instead, at its heart it remains a beautiful and triumphant love story. Producers are Sarah Green, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Colin Firth, Ged Doherty and Nancy Buriski, who made the HBO docu. Focus Features opened the film in Los Angeles and New York on Friday and will be slowly widening it throughout the month. It is well worth seeing — a very human gem of a film.
Do you plan to see Loving? Let us know what you think.