Directed by Jeff Nichols
Loving couldn’t be a more appropriate title. Not only is it the name of the couple whose story this film tells, and the emotion which is its subject, it also describes the way the film is made. It’s a very loving film, full of unsentimental feeling for the joy and preciousness of ordinary human life.
When Richard and Mildred, she pregnant with his child, decide to marry, it is unremarked in their circle that she is black, he is white, but miscegenation laws in their home state of Virginia in 1967 mean they must travel to Washington DC for the marriage to take place. Returning to their home, they are soon raided by the police – seems the miscegenation laws don’t just mean no marriage being allowed to take place, but no recognition of an existing lawful marriage either – callously thrown into cells (she’s heavily pregnant) and, treated as if their love is not just illegal but disgusting. The law prevails, and they’re given the ultimatum of living separately or leaving the state that is their home. Moving to live in urban Washington, their bright joie de vivre is dimmed. They’re country folk, and want their children to live with the freedom to roam that they had, among their own extended families. Ruth Negga (an Oscar must, surely?) is amazing- she can do the glow of happiness like no other actress I can think of, which makes her downbeat sadness more unbearable. Of the two she’s the active one, writing at last to Robert Kennedy for advice on how they can get their lives back. Joel Edgerton’s slightly grumpy, undemonstrative Richard is the perfect foil, a solid guy who everyone likes , wanting nothing but to just get on with life, whose spiritual centre is always his wife.
Love alone isn’t enough but it can marshal help, in the form of civil rights lawyer Bernie Coen (Nick Kroll), no fancy-speaking city slicker but an enthusiastic rookie, nervous but determined, and exposure to the media and public gaze is another cross to be borne by the couple. There’s a lovely cameo by Jeff Nichols regular and critics’ favourite Michael Shannon, unusually chirpy and boyish, and looking a good 25 years younger than when last gracing the screen as the hawkin’ and spittin’ sheriff of Nocturnal Animals. He plays floppy-haired photographer Grey Villet, who takes an iconic picture of the pair in a moment of happy relaxation that says everything about their marriage. The original appears with the final credits and as a portrait of unselfconscious bliss it leaves a lump in your throat.
In the course of the film a normal human instinct becomes heroic, because it’s so right, and this unfussy treatment cuts right to the heart , investing a kind of magic to humdrum working life.
Seen February 2017 at Cineworld, Boldon Colliery