Cannes 2016: Jeff Nichols relays the fight for interracial marriage with typical subtlety
In the still of the night in Caroline County, Virginia on July 11 1958, the local sheriff’s department entered the home of Richard and Mildred Loving to arrest them. Their crime was simply being an interracial married couple. A ruling by Judge Leon Bazile, who uttered ugly words about segregation, banned the couple from the state for 25 years. However, after a long legal battle, this was eventually overturned in 1967 by the Supreme Court, setting a new precedent in miscegenation laws.
Writer-director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud) approaches this momentous moment in history and true story of injustice with his usual understated assurance. There’s no slamming of fists in the courtroom or grand speeches. Instead he trusts his actors to quietly convey their contained rage and paranoia, which in turn creates an uneasy mood.
Joel Edgerton truly embodies the role of Richard with his slimmed down appearance, cropped blonde hair and stoic swagger. Ruth Negga shines as Mildred too, her pensive stares and large eyes conveying a multitude of emotions. Nichols places focus on how their relationship shifts under the strain, and how their love eventually prevailed against the odds.
Mildred is shown as gradually leading the charge in terms of defending their civil rights, with her determination stemming from her desire to return to the lush green fields of home to raise her three children there. Although Richard is nothing but supportive, he shies away from the media attention as Mildred begins to thrive in this world. At one point, after a failed court appeal, Richard is asked to address the waiting press, but instead Mildred takes his hand and speaks for both of them without hesitation. Her growth in confidence is subtly built, a few dignified words here and there, with the sweet release of pent-up emotion only erupting in the final few minutes.
Observing the Lovings’ life through a lens is LIFE photographer Grey Villet (Nichols regular Michael Shannon), a friendly presence and skilled raconteur. You see him take a picture of the couple laying on their sofa, giggling away to a comedy show. It’s a joyful image that Nichols reveals at the end of the film, where it acts as a wonderful reminder of the basic human right the couple were fighting for.
Screening as part of Cannes 2016. General release TBC.