In the late 1950s, Richard Loving married Mildred Jeter. They lived a modest life in Virginia, not bothering anyone, just going quietly about their business. Yet one night police raided their home and arrested them both. Their crime? Richard was white and Mildred was black. Their interracial marriage violated state law. The Loving’s mission to have their relationship recognised as legitimate would take over a decade and go all the way to the Supreme Court.
This true story is the sort that screams Oscar-bait, but it’s far from the mawkish, manipulative mush it could have been. That’s not really the style of Jeff Nichols, director of the gorgeous coming-of-age drama Mud and the haunting-until-its-rubbish-ending Midnight Special. Nichols isn’t a man given to big, histrionic moments. He finds his drama in showing the intimacy of his protagonists’ love for each other and letting the audience feel the outrage of two unassuming people being treated as criminals simply for wanting to be together.
There are times that Nichols threatens to over-egg his pudding, mainly in any moments featuring Martin Csokas’ Sheriff Brooks, a cop so fixated on the Lovings that it verges on cartoonish. His sneering and glaring at them overdo the evil. His actions are horrible enough without giving them an extra layer of moustache twirling. Those moments are brief, though. For the most part the focus is on Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) and the gentle chemistry between the two and their quiet dignity in their fight is immensely moving. Both actors are tremendous, but Negga, who has been on the fringes of UK TV for years, is astonishing. This is the kind of performance that can vault you immediately to the A-list. She conveys the fury and determination of Mildred without ever raising her voice. She can exude complicated emotion while simply listening to a phone call. She has, quite rightly, been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress.
If you’re feeling like the world is in a crappy place right now, Loving is a welcome reminder that things can get better. People can be good. The bastards don’t always win.