Film Review – Loving (2017)

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The 1967 US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Loving v. Virginia was a landmark moment in the history of US law, civil rights and the ongoing fight against bigotry. Having married each other nine year previously, Richard Loving, a white man and Mildred Jeter, a black woman were both sentenced to a year in prison for violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 which prohibited interracial marriage. Pleading guilty to the charge, they were forced to leave their home state and relocated to the District of Columbia, separated from their families, friends and the sprawling plot of land upon which they were to build their home.

After writing in protest to the Attorney General, the couple was approached by the American Civil Liberties Union who offered to fight their case. The three year appeal took them all the way to the highest court in the USA before their conviction was quashed and the banning of interracial marriages was deemed unconstitutional.

Watching Jeff Nichols’ tenderly observed and astutely acted adaptation of the story, you get a sense that history is being made before your eyes, but principally due to the knowledge you have brought to the movie yourself. As the movie pinpoints historic moments in the battle to break down barriers and blaze a trial for civil rights, the movie seems to somehow sell the eventual triumph a bit short.

Nichols has clearly gone for a more muted tone here, avoiding the rabble rousing and fist pumping; but as Loving rolls into its second half and the ground breaking, history making begins to occur (off screen almost entirely) you get a sense that history is rolling along and the meat of the movie slipping by unseen. The point here is that neither Richard (Joel Edgerton) nor Mildred (Ruth Negga) are heroes in the conventional sense. They are humble, normal people concerned primarily with each other rather than kicking against the pricks and setting an example for any other similarly disposed and disadvantaged couples. When the movie works best, it works best by focusing on the simple moments in the lives of a normal couple getting along, doing normal things with honesty and sensitivity.

That’s great, but you do feel like perhaps some more dynamism and a slightly more dramatic storytelling would make this startling and incredible real life story feel more momentous.

★★★1/2 | Chris Banks

Drama, Romance, Biograpghy | USA, 2016 | 12A | 3rd Februaru 2-17 (UK) |Universal Pictures | Dir.Jeff Nichols |Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon, Martin Csokas