Loving can be seen as an American companion piece to A United Kingdom. The latter was a chronicle of how an interracial marriage changed the constitution in Botswana. Loving tells the real-life story of how a similar marriage changed the constitution in the US.
Loving comes to us with more awards buzz than A United Kingdom, and one could be excused for anticipating that the British production was the poor cousin, but now that both films have finally been released in Australia, A United Kingdom surprisingly scrubs up as the better of the two.
Loving chronicles the struggle of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeret, (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), a couple living by modest means in the relatively integrated area of Central Point, Virginia, in the late 1950s. There was little more than a muted concern between their families that Richard was white, and Mildred was half African American, half Native American. The state of Virginia in general was more segregated, however, so much so that the Lovings were unable to get married in their home state due to the interracial nature of their union. They saw no option but to cross the border in order to tie the knot.
Up to this point they’ve only had to deal with long stares from other locals, but having returned home and moved in together, the two were promptly arrested, a particularly distressing experience given that Mildred was pregnant.
This began a legal process that was to last for nine years, growing in scope beyond what the Lovings imagined. Indeed Richard, a simple salt-of-the-earth man, wanted as little attention paid to them a possible. He merely wanted to live with the woman he loved without getting arrested.
Mildred became more vocal about her human rights as the case progressed, but it’s really the lawyers, driven more by furthering their careers than the welfare of the couple they’re representing, that pushed the case to create history. This was ultimately achieved when, in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
It’s an emotive story, but comes across as strangely lifeless under the direction of Jeff Nichols, whose previous work, Take Shelter and Midnight Special in particular, is worlds apart from this. Inspired by the documentary, The Loving Story, this is the first time he’s not working from his own original script.
Over its 2-hour running time, Nichols focuses a lot on the small details that take up a large part of the daily lives of the Lovings, Mildred kneading dough and washing dishes, and Richard laying bricks, emphasising the simplicity of their lives.
It’s a well put together production with good performances, especially from the Ethiopian-born Negga, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar as the quietly dignified and resilient Mildred. Edgerton, a very gifted actor, delivers a performance that doesn’t feel quite so organic.
While on the one hand its admirable that Nichols has chosen to underplay the key emotional moments of the journey, thus avoiding the obvious, he also undermines the raw power of the narrative. The overall result, despite the best intentions by all concerned, is a slight disappointment.
Loving is in limited release from March 16
Richard Leathem @dickiegee