Ruth Negga shines in dignified drama about love and race.
In Jeff Nichols’ film, Loving is both a verb and a noun. Joel Edgerton and Oscar-nominated Ruth Negga play Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple at the centre of the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which ruled miscegenation laws of the time to be unconstitutional. After marrying, the couple were forced to leave Virginia and move to Washington, threatened with prison if they ever returned.
Far from a fist-pounding, message-spewing courtroom drama, Loving is an intimate portrait of two very ordinary people, notable not for their passionate political zeal, but rather their quiet humility.The two actors put in beautifully nuanced performances for characters who, by nature, say very little.
Edgerton taps into a specific expression of rural masculinity that’s strong, but also so humble that he’ll never meet anyone’s eye. Meanwhile, Negga is beautiful in her unexpressed heartbreak, a quietly joyful woman who loses herself when torn from her family and friends. Mildred’s love is expressed through acts of kindness, and a shy but radiant smile – a smile that disappears when the couple move to dismally grey Washington.
Mildred’s loneliness and sadness at the injustice of the couple’s exile are palpable, and makes their decision to sneak back to the idyllically golden Virginia and eventually pursue legal help feel not just understandable, but necessary. In the midst of all the rage and discord, the quiet intimacy that Nichols brings to a potentially melodramatic and flashily Oscar-baiting film is extraordinary.
However, after a slow two hours, the overly polite restraint feels naïve – or at least, premature. In this cultural and political landscape, Nichols’ confidence that there’s no need to get visibly angry at racism, or to give the audience some emotional catharsis, feels misguided. Here’s hoping the world improves so his idealism is rewarded.
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