In 1958, Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a black woman, were married in Virginia. They moved into the house Richard had built for them and settled into a quiet life of family and hard work, looking forward to the birth of their first child.
However, interracial marriage was against the law in their state. And so they were arrested. Their sentences were dropped in exchange for the promise that they would not re-enter the state as a couple for 25 years. Eventually their marriage became the center of a Supreme Court case.
While the film is based on a drama-filled true story complete with police, jail, lawyers, and courtrooms, director Jeff Nichols opts instead for a quiet film focused on the Lovings’ modest, mostly low-profile life.
Richard, played by Joel Edgerton with steady but prickly stoicism, just wants to be able to enjoy his family, do his work, and kick back with friends. He’s a bricklayer; throughout the movie we witness him silently building something new with his own hands. He’s willing to do whatever is necessary to keep his marriage together. When they are told to leave the state, the couple moves to Washington, D.C., where he finds work and they have connections for housing.
Mildred, on the other hand, is unhappy in D.C. She wants to be back in their home state, where their children can roam free in the country. She’s just as reserved as Richard, but actress Ruth Negga glows with subtle strength portraying Mildred’s quiet awakening to the civil rights movement and their opportunity to play a part. She defers to Richard’s wishes sometimes, but she also understands the role that the media plays in telling their story to the nation and convinces him to be a part of the necessary interviews.
It’s painful to hear what the county judge gives as basis for his ruling against the Lovings: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Here’s a good reminder to Christians that we should be careful when we are tempted to speak for God, when we so easily find ourselves speaking instead of God.
Director Jeff Nichols finds the drama in everyday moments, raising tension in small things but playing off the bigger events with little fanfare. Major moments happen off-camera. Depending on the viewer’s preferences, this can be perceived as either a frustrating lack of payoff or a disciplined restraint that points the camera to the real story, the Lovings’ relationship. Or perhaps both.
Nichols’ love of the land is also evident, as in his previous films. When Mildred breathes a sigh of contentment at being on home ground, in spite of the danger involved, viewers breathe that contentment along with her.
As portrayed in this film, the Lovings are ordinary people who want to live an ordinary life, but who find themselves in a situation that requires something greater from them. That doesn’t turn them into cultural superheroes, however; it just makes them a stronger version of themselves. On disc now. (Universal)