Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) are young, in love and expecting a baby. The year is 1958: because Richard is white and Mildred is black, a marriage between them will be illegal in their home state of Virginia. In order to get married, they will have to cross state lines.
After a small ceremony in Washington they return to live quietly in the town of Central Point. But though their own rural community is relatively integrated, the state authorities have got wind of their relationship, leading to the couple being arrested after a night-time raid on their home. In order to avoid prison time, they must accept a 25-year banishment from the state of Virginia, meaning a separation from family and friends.
As the years pass and their children grow up in the city, Mildred in particular misses her home, and begins to wonder if anything can be done to overturn the ruling. A phone call from the American Civil Liberties Union ignites her hope – setting this unassuming couple on the path to changing history.
Like last year’s Best Picture-winning Spotlight, Loving remains quiet and measured as it tells a story of horrifying injustice. Don’t expect grand speeches and swelling music: this is not a typical courtroom drama. In fact, it’s not a courtroom drama at all. Writer-director Jeff Nichols (working from Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story) has chosen to keep the focus on the family life of the film’s protagonists, which turns out to be a uniquely powerful statement.
Richard and Mildred Loving didn’t set out to change the world. But the personal is political, and their attempts to simply build a home and a life together lead to an endless series of everyday indignities and heartbreaks. From Mildred curled in a jail cell in her dressing gown and slippers, to the taciturn Richard unable to articulate his rage and grief, Loving is full of wordless scenes which speak volumes.
It’s the performances which hold it together, especially the luminous Ruth Negga, whose sweet, shy Mildred turns out to have a spine of steel. The film may seem slow at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s not doing its work – or that it’s devoid of the necessary anger. In a world which – then and now – often feels frighteningly full of hatred, Loving lets the ordinary, extraordinary love between a husband and wife speak for itself.
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? Was it what you were expecting? How much did you know about the story of the Lovings going in?
- What did you think of the film’s central performances? What qualities did Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton bring to their roles? What did their body language help to communicate about the characters and their relationship?
- Why do you think the filmmakers chose not to focus on the events inside the courtroom? Did you think the film was ‘dramatic’ enough, and why or why not? What were some of its most powerful moments for you?
- How does Mildred change and grow over the course of the story? Why is she keen to push for justice in the courts, while Richard is more reticent?
‘We may lose the small battles, but win the big war.’ – Mildred
- Why is it so important to Mildred and Richard that they get married, even though it will lead to trouble for them? According to the film, what does it mean to be married, and what does a good marriage look like?
- How does the film portray the racism which Mildred and Richard face? How do characters such as Sheriff Brooks (Martin Csokas) attempt to justify their attitudes? How does it feel to reflect on the fact that Loving portrays relatively recent history?
- In what ways is Loving a timely film? What messages does it have for our own society, and what did you take from it on a personal level?
‘Tell the judge I love my wife.’ – Richard