Review: ‘Loving’ (yes, Virginia, there is a sanctioned clause)

Challenge accepted.

In the late 1950s, interracial marriage was still illegal in the state of Virginia; Mildred (Ruth Negga), a young black woman, enters into a relationship with a young white man named Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) in spite of the antiquated law. Concerns for their safety come from both sides of their families, but the pair are determined to be together, driving to Washington D.C. to marry… with Mildred already carrying her child with Richard. While taking steps to keep their matrimony a secret, local officials arrest the couple in the middle of the night, threatening both with a lengthy jail sentence unless they accept willing exile from their home state. Unfortunately, home isn’t always where the heart is but rather where it yearns to be, but will the US Supreme Court see it that way?

Speaking of recent politics, a renewed focus on racial tensions in both the United States and the world has made stories like this not only relevant but essential. Released this awards season along with the similarly themed Hidden Figures, slavery may have been outlawed but second-class citizenry by birth is still prevalent. The trailer offers up the time-honored “based on a true story” blurb while hinting at the real danger the couple faced merely because “they don’t know no better.” Because the threat is on a personal level with rewards that are facts most of the US population takes for granted, this story may not resonate to those who can’t see the benefit in taking a stand simply by going on with their lives. After all, how bad could things possibly get for a couple only risking their freedom on a principle?

What the trailers do not reveal is who the strongest part of the couple is: Mildred, as portrayed by Ruth Negga. When we first meet her, she’s timid and shy, more than willing to be told where to go and what to do with little of her own personal power. Richard is her strength but also a simple man; he understands what’s right in his heart, but it frustrates him that others can’t see it his way — he knows what he knows. As such, the focus shifts to Mildred taking the lead, and that’s when it becomes apparent what Negga brings to the role. While perhaps not as grand as launching a person into space and returning them safely to Earth, their quiet defiance and willingness to risk paved the way for real change and for future generations. One significant point herein is, while both families fear for the couple, racism pervades both sides of it as well, and that’s something that isn’t always brought to light.

The film uses a threatening atmosphere to create weight, hinting at the constant vigilance the couple and their family endures while waiting for level heads and the law to prevail. While not in a huge role, Michael Shannon’s portrayal of a Life magazine photographer is second only to Negga. As the story winds down to a conclusion, the photographer sits with the weary family and catches moments that emphasizes their bond; a few of these photos of the actual couple are shown during the credits, perfectly recreated within the film’s context. To paraphrase Richard: “We ain’t hurtin’ nobody.” When the historical decision is handed down and delivered with a phone call, it feels anticlimactic because it justifies what the husband and wife already know in their hearts.

Loving is rated PG-13 for thematic elements but should probably be required viewing in schools — lest we forget.

4 Skull Recommendation Out of Four

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