He was the unlikeliest of civil rights heroes. For a start he was white – a taciturn bullfrog of a man, with little education and few words. Long gone now at the hands of a drunk driver, Richard Loving was what many would consider to be white southern trash, hailing as he did from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Loving adored cars, rot-gut whiskey and his Mildred. Only problem was, Mildred was black. In fact, back in the fifties/sixties, Loving was more at home in the company of her fellow coloureds than he was with his own people. Colour just wasn’t an issue for Richard. His own family had a ramshackle property down the end of a tobacco road and when Mildred announced to him, in trepidation, that she was pregnant, he knew what he had to do. He wasn’t dissuaded that it was illegal in his home state – he resolved to marry her and build her a new home on some land he’d been saving up for. He’d wed her in Washington where it was within the law and bring her back to their new love nest. Simple – or so he thought.
And they chose an Aussie to play him. I’ve heard that the reason for the current popularity of our actors in Hollywood is that they come to town ready to roll due to their solid grounding in the home grown industry; that they’re not prima donnas; that they’re never fazed by what’s required of them and they do accents well. Joel Edgerton had worked with director Jeff Nichols previously, in ‘Midnight Special’, so the guy at the helm was well versed in his capabilities. Joel did not let him down, earning a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal. His co-star did ditto, but went one better in winning. Many felt the Aussie’s performance was up there with Casey Affleck’s in ‘Manchester by the Sea’. I’d beg to differ, but nonetheless it was darn good. His gorgeous Mildred was played by Ruth Negga, an Ethiopian born Irish actress.
Soon after the start of ‘Loving’ we know that Richard has miscalculated – being legally married elsewhere does not change the law locally. The couple are quickly arrested and sent to the clink. They discover that, to avoid a lengthy sentence, they must move back to DC, something that rankles Mildred in particular. She writes to the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, to plead the wrongness of their situation, setting in motion a process that leads all the way to the Supreme Court. And the rest is history.
It’s Mildred who is eventually the proactive one of the pair; Richard remaining a reluctant partner in the proceedings and refusing to participate in any of them. He also forbids his wife, against her wishes. All of it is left up to the lawyers. It’s during the course of this journey that their humble home, which they have returned to on the quiet, is visited by a photographer from ‘Life’ magazine. Played by ‘Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Shannon, he bonds with the couple and the resulting spread in the magazine goes a long way to pricking the nation’s conscience on the issue. The actors re-enact the informal session – and as the end credits appear, we receive the original up on screen. Its impact is palpable.
Nichols doesn’t over-egg his story; he lets it unfold slowly with Mildred growing in stature along with her confidence. But nothing changes Richard. The scene when he’s overwhelmed by the enormity with what’s occurring with him at the centre is one of this nuanced movie’s highlights. The only drawback for this viewer is that, at times, the distinctive southern drawl is so pronounced sub-titles are almost required. With some of the characters I missed whole slabs of conversation.
It seems that, as they weren’t in the public view as the various court cases in their name took place, history, until this film, has largely forgotten about the Lovings. It’s sad that neither survived to see it reach the big screen, as at least one member from the women who made up the concurrent ‘Hidden Figures’ managed. ‘Loving’ is a tale of a simple love story having profound implications – of ordinary people, through their stubbornness and resilience, changing our world for the better.
Official Trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRXuCY7tRgk