Loving (2016)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Films that use silences are rare; they act in courage and expect the audience to read in-between the lines. Loving is one such story, a historical profile of the interracial marriage that changed American history.

Mildred speaks two words: “I’m pregnant.” She waits. Richard (Joel Edgerton)’s face splits into a broad smile. “That’s wonderful,” he says.

The rest of the world might not think so. It’s 1958 in Virginia, and while both their families accept their love for one another, the state does not. Determined to “make it legal,” Richard drives her to Washington DC for a marriage license. The beaming newlyweds return home and hang it up on the wall… and days later, the local sheriff (Marton Csokas) drags them out of the same bed and throws them in jail. Richard spends one night. Mildred spends several; the sheriff will not let Richard bail her out. “Blacks and whites,” he says, “they don’t belong together.”

Richard feels otherwise. He’s not about to divorce her, so he stands his ground in court. Their lawyer suggests they take a deal that will force them to leave the state for twenty-five years. But Washington does not feel like home, so Mildred writes a letter to Robert Kennedy that changes not only their lives, but racial history, forever.

I did not know this film even existed until I discovered it in a list of recommendations and then assumed it was a small-budget effort; it’s not, and Colin Firth produced it., It’s an incredible film. It’s all about unspoken affections, the bond between two people, and the world that contrives to keep them apart (and also the people that help them along the way). It’s never judgmental, but never condoning of the racial segregation that demanded they stay apart; this is less about “bad people,” and more about “why these two people should be together.”

Some of the case's facts surprised me, but this is more about their relationship than a courtroom drama; most of the excitement happens off-screen, but there is an low build of menace throughout, as you hope they are not “caught” and returned to jail (as one lawyer says, “there’s no guarantee if they went back in, we could get them out”). But, I’ll admit: it felt longer than it was, because there is so little overt emotion on display. Richard and Mildred talk to one another little and the audience never hears what’s going on in their head—which is a daring approach, and works well here, but left me a little cold.

The cast is solid and turn in wonderful performances, and the recreation of the 1960’s is lovely, with authentic vehicles, costumes, and even scenes shot on location. It’s a moving portrait of two people remarkable only for their desire to be together, when the state of Virginia told them it was a “reprehensible act.”  

Sexual Content:
A woman falls pregnant outside of marriage; a couple enters a bedroom together and closes the door. A policeman threatens a woman by saying he will lock a prisoner in with her overnight.
 
Language:
Three n-words, several uses of s**t, a few profanities.
 
Violence:
None.

Other:
None.