By: Jo Siedlecka
Loving, the new film from acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols, released in the UK this Friday, tells the true story of the interracial couple, Richard and Midred Loving, played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, from a small town in Virginia, who fell in love and got married in 1958, but then spent the next nine years struggling to live together as a family.
It's hard to believe, but back in the Sixties, in parts of the United States, it was illegal for white and non-white men and women to touch - let alone marry. Couples were criminalised and risked a prison sentence if they broke the 'anti-miscegenation' law.
"God put people of different colours on different continents for a reason" one judge explained.
Richard and Mildred got married legally in Washington DC, but were arrested in the middle of the night soon after they returned home, by armed policemen who tell them their marriage certificate - which Richard has nailed to the wall - does not count. While he is given bail, Mildred, who is several months pregnant, is locked up in the town jail for days, and then sent back in disgrace to live with her parents.
Richard comes to get her and they escape to live with relatives in inner city Washington.
Faced with such a situation, thousands of couples simply moved away to another state where the laws were more tolerant, but after a while, the Lovings miss their families and the fresh air and peace and quiet of their home town so much, they decide to try to move back. Mildred writes to the Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union eventually take up their case.
This is a guiet, very moving film, beautifully observed, with fine performances. Joel Edgerton's Richard Loving is a plain, reserved man who works as a bricklayer on building sites. He's often shown quietly milling over the design for the house he plans to build, or coming home with his spirit level and tin lunch box. "Tell the judge I love my wife " he says simply.
Irish-Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga, gives a beautiful, dignified performance as as Mildred, (who was herself part African part Native American). While Richard seems to grow quieter as the story unfolds, Mildred becomes more and more articulate in the defence of her young family.
The smaller characters in the film have all been beautifully scripted and cast - especially Nick Kroll who plays the inexperienced slightly bungling young lawyer Bernie Cohen and his sardonic older colleague played by John Bass. There are no Hollywood plastic faces here.
Loving looks set to be one of the best films of the year and has already been shortlisted for a number of awards - among them Ruth Negga - nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has put forward Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton for their roles in the film and Jeff Nichols has been shortlisted by the Writers Guild of America for Best Original Screenplay.
With the new administration in America promising a return to the great days of the past - this film could not have come at a better time as a reminder that things weren't all so wonderful back then - and to recollect and pay tribute to the struggles people went through to gain the human rights that are taken for granted now. Its also a beautiful love story.
Note: In 2000 Alabama was the last state to lift the ban on inter-racial marriage. 40% voted against.
Damaris Media have published discussion resources on Loving. See: http://filmblog.damaris.org/a-closer-look-at-loving/