Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star in this sensitively portrayed and dignified true-life drama about Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple living in the American South in the 1950s.
The Lovings want to get married and start a family, but Virginia state laws of the time prohibit interracial marriage. They get married in Washington DC (where interracial marriage is legal) but their marriage certificate is invalid in Virginia. They are arrested, and are banned from returning to Virginia as a couple for 25 years.
The first part of the film explores the consequences on their lives, through a series of sensitively observed everyday vignettes. The Lovings have moved to Washington, but Richard has to travel to Virginia every day to work on construction sites, whilst Mildred desperately misses her family and does not want her children growing up in the city.
Inspired by the Civil rights movement, Mildred decides to take action. She writes to the Attorney-General for help; he refers her letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, who take on the case.
Mildred develops a quiet but increasingly determined strength as she realises she has an opportunity to make a difference by pursuing the case. Richard, in contrast, wishes to be left alone. When asked if he has a message for the judges, his simple but heart-breaking reply is ‘tell them I love my wife’.
Joel Edgerton portrays Richard Loving as a man drawn in on himself who wishes the world would leave his family in peace, but it is Ruth Negga’s performance as Mildred which stands out, moving from a hunted and vulnerable young woman to someone who makes her mark on the world.
This focus on the domestic is both the film’s strength and its weakness. It gives space to show a couple who stay true to each other, but quiet dignity is not quite enough to carry the film.