Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom/USA, 2016. Raindog Films, Big Beach Films. Screenplay by Jeff Nichols. Cinematography by Adam Stone. Produced by Nancy Buirski, Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, Sarah Green, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub. Music by David Wingo. Production Design by Chad Keith. Costume Design by Erin Benach. Film Editing by Julie Monroe. Academy Awards 2016. Cannes Film Festival Awards 2016. Golden Globe Awards 2016. Gotham Awards 2016. Independent Spirit Awards 2016. Toronto International Film Festival 2016. Washington Film Critics Awards 2016.
Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) tells her boyfriend Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) that she’s pregnant; he is pleased with the news and immediately buys a plot, begins building a house in their rural Virginia community and, most important, asks her to marry him. They are not together for long after their Washington, D.C. wedding before the police come and arrest them both in the middle of the night: Mildred is black and Richard is white, and in early sixties America there are still anti-miscegenation laws in many states that have not been challenged by the rising tide of civil rights. The condition of the couple being spared jail time is that they never return to the state of Virginia together for twenty-five years, forcing them to live in Washington while Loving commutes back home for work before Mildred decides she misses the country and cannot stand the thought of raising her three children in a grimy and impersonal city. She writes about her case to Robert Kennedy and he forwards it to the ACLU, leading to the landmark case (Loving v. Virginia) that eventually strikes down laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the United States. This subtle, affecting film avoids preachy melodrama and instead highlights the inhumanity of such laws by focusing on how quietly harmonious the main couple at the centre of the storm is throughout all their troubles: their love for each other is solid and sincere and they agree to publicity to help their case but otherwise never seem to have anything to prove, fighting a law that is as much a failure of logic as it is tolerance. The steady mood that Jeff Nichols maintains throughout the entire thing is so consistent that it might drive some audience members crazy, it doesn’t quite lead to an overwhelming climax and the film is possibly too long, but Nichols chooses integrity over thrills and coaxes fine performances from leads who have successful chemistry and for that the film is a winner. The only false note is a shallow and awkward performance by Nick Kroll as the quirky northern Jewish lawyer who helps guide these salt-of-the-earth oakies to victory despite being green as a constitution lawyer; after spending so long in the confident presence of performers who never show their hand and who pull off their characters’ plain and simple lives (including Sharon Blackwood as Loving’s careworn mother), having an actor unable to resist the urge to impersonate a caricature when the camera gets up close is distracting and a reminder that we’re in biopic territory. It’s not a major flaw, however, and the film is a rich and memorable tribute to a very important turn in American history.