No one can accuse filmmaker Jeff Nichols of not being versatile. His last film, Midnight Special, was a sci-fi thriller, and his new film Loving tells the story of a interracial American couple who reluctantly changed history. Although wildly different, both films have family and compassion at the heart of them.
Just watching the trailer for Loving made me tear up, so I prepared myself for Terms Of Endearment level sobbing – but I was surprised that I didn’t need my ten pack of Kleenex. Nichols could have gone for overwrought performances and heaped on the sentimentality but the subtle and understated nature of the film reflects the Lovings’ relationship – they just wanted to live a quiet life together. Their small community accepted them (mostly); it was the state of Virginia that was trying to keep them apart.
We meet the Lovings when Mildred is already pregnant and we are not given a full sense of how they got together. I wish we were given more of their back story and shown how they fell in love, but Nichols brings them to the screen as a fully formed unit, without a ‘here’s how we fell in love’ montage. Call me a sap, but I would have quite liked to see that.
Ruth Negga’s lead performance is wonderful – in one look she says what a lesser actor couldn’t say in ten pages of dialogue. She is truly mesmerising and deserves her Oscar nomination for Best Actress, although I am surprised that it is the film’s only nomination. Behind Joel Edgerton’s ‘caucasian’ blue eyes, cropped platinum hair and hulking body is a man who is just trying to live his life with the woman he loves. He never reverts to violence or retaliates, he remains composed, strong and quiet. The lead actors convey intimacy through glances and small gestures – the depth of their commitment to each other is portrayed beautifully. One of the most moving scenes shows the Lovings in their bedroom together, their profiles cast in shadows so no skin colour can be seen.
The film is about race, discrimination and civil rights, and sadly these are still at the forefront of world news today. I had never heard of the ACLU until a couple of weeks ago when Alan Sugar’s American counterpart became the president of the USA. The American Civil Liberties Union took on the Lovings’ appeal after Mildred wrote to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy for his help and that led to their conviction being appealed and marriage laws in America changing.
It is rare to see a film with that tells such a big story in such a subtle way – there is a distinct lack of outrage in Loving. In one scene you see Mildred watching civil rights marches in Washington on television but this film does not portray anything like that sort of anger and frustration from the main characters. They are not angry, they seem more hurt and confused. They are the ones who see the world the way others should, they sadly just had to wait for the society to catch up.
Maybe it is more of a personal preference but I would have liked to have seen more anger – but perhaps I am judging people’s feelings on today’s standards rather than how it really was in America in the 50s and 60s. Loving is a vital film – their story is as important today as it was then.
Loving is in UK cinemas now.