Review: Taciturn dignity is the secret to quiet and powerful Loving

Ruth Negga as Mildred and Joel Edgerton as Richard in Jeff Nichols’ Loving. Picture: Universal

Ruth Negga as Mildred and Joel Edgerton as Richard in Jeff Nichols Loving. Picture: Universal - Credit: Universal

True life story of interracial couple Richard and Mildred's courtroom battle of against bigotry and bureaucracy focuses on the little things in life and is as understated as its protagonists.

Loving (15)


Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is not an expressive man. Most of the time he looks like he's cogitating on an imminent spit. He squints out at the world like it's a Sudoku puzzle, and nobody ain't never told him about Sudoku.

He's a level land hillbilly, a social progressive redneck who, by deciding to marry a black girl, Mildred (Oscar nominated Ruth Negga) when the state of Virginia still had laws about that kind of thing, sets in motion a string of events that would go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Mildred takes some active interest in it but he remains largely unconcerned. He gets on with his business and leaves history to swirl around them.

Writer-director Jeff Nichols' film, which draws inspiration from Nancy Buirski's celebrated 2011 documentary The Loving Story, is as understated as its protagonist.

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Anyone put off this because they can't face another grandstanding civil rights drama with rednecks and big dramatic speeches should be assured that Loving is something much less, but way better, than that.

Nichols' version of this true life story focuses on the little things in life and allows the big things to just get on with themselves, largely off stage.

Really Edgerton and Negga are the whole film, and they are more than enough.

Richard doesn't say anything more than is strictly necessary and the film is similarly tight lipped, sometimes frustratingly so. When the pair get thrown in jail he is bailed out soon but she has to spend the weekend in jail. We never find out who bails him out and why none of her family come down to bail her out.

Similarly, a few dates and times wouldn't go amiss. Some explanations too. After their arrest they are sentenced to leave Virginia for 25 years but they flout that ruling and do so while conducting a high profile legal challenge, and inviting a Life magazine photographer (Michael Shannon, no Nichols film is complete without him) to their Virginia home.

Still, the up side of not saying much is that when words do pass your lips, they have real force. When asked what he would say to the Supreme Court, Richard's response, 'I love my wife,' is quietly devastating.

Taciturn dignity is a hell of quality to have.

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