Defying the state of Virginia's law against interracial marriage, Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man, marries Mildred (Ruth Negga), an African American woman, in 1958. The state seeks to end their union by first jailing and then banishing the couple from Virginia. Richard and Mildred spend the next nine years fighting to get home, taking their civil rights case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Review by Louise Keller:
Painting his cinematic palette with economy and understatement, Midnight Special director Jeff Nichols allows this potent civil rights story to unfold - simply and without fanfare. While the film may be notable for its lack of dramatic curve, it is not lacking on power or emotion. Similarly, the two central performances by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are subtle and underplayed - beautifully.
First and foremost, this is a love story. The fact that the man and woman happen to be white and coloured is incidental. To begin with, anyway. In fact, Nichols makes a point of not stating the fact that the law in Virginia in 1958 deemed interracial marriage illegal. The mood and elements are established with five short, descriptive scenes that describe the relationship: complete with romance, commitment and plans for the future. Colour plays no part in the couple's everyday life and work. Nichols makes even the simplest interactions interesting: the camera angles make their own statement.
It takes a little while to get a sense of why construction worker Richard Loving (Edgerton) and his new wife Mildred (Negga) are arrested and thrown into prison. To accentuate the colour differences, Edgerton is almost albino-esque. 'You hang around all these black folks,' he is told, 'but you're white.' There is a feeling of uncertainty as Richard keeps his eye in his rear vision mirror of his two-tone Ford Fairlane Victoria as he drives home each day. When they are told they must leave Virginia and not return for 25 years, we begin to understand the reality of the escalating civil rights issue from a personal perspective. Mildred's letter to Robert Kennedy begins a chain reaction, starting with the Civil Liberty Union which is when a roadmap to the Supreme Court is set.
Nichols favourite Michael Shannon plays the small but important role of a Life Magazine photographer, who captures the essence of the relationship of the couple as they await the outcome of the Supreme Court case in 1966. Marriage is and should be an inherent right. The implication to others about land ownership and legitimacy of children is apparent.
This is a film that delivers its message quietly: the facts speak for themselves. It is refreshing to find a film with no emotional manipulation, prompting us to allow our gut instincts to guide us.
A TV documentary on the subject won a Peabody and Emmy Award, after playing at festivals in 2011 and being screened on HBO in 2012. Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth is credited as one of the producers, having championed the story in a bid to have it made into a feature version.
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(UK, US, 2016)
CAST: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Marton Csokas, Michael Shannon
PRODUCER: Nancy Buirski, Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, Sarah Green, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub
DIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols
SCRIPT: Jeff Nichols
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Stone
EDITOR: Julie Monroe
MUSIC: David Wingo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chad Keith
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: EOne
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 16, 2017