How 'Loving' depicts a quietly powerful battle for basic human rights

03 Feb 2017 BY Elinor Walpole in Film Features

6 mins

Loving is a powerful drama about a couple's demand for basic human rights. The film tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a mixed race woman, who found themselves persecuted for the 'crime of being married', as the legal system sought to tear them apart for no other reason than they were not of the same skin colour. Set in the 1950s, an era when the civil rights situation was a patchwork across America, with laws varying widely from state to state, the film quietly examines what it meant to a budding family to have their status questioned. In its affirmation of the right to love whomever you choose, Loving shares values with films such as Guess Who's Coming to DinnerBelle, and Brokeback Mountain.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take ShelterMudMidnight Special), Loving was born out of the desire to tell a little-known but hugely important story, and was based largely on the documentary The Loving Story. Nichols himself grew up in the American South, a complex place shaped largely through its slave-owning history and the struggle for civil rights. Jeff Nichols had previously depicted life in the South in his film Mud, which was loosely inspired by Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. He attended Little Rock Central High School, famous as being the first desegregated high school in the United States, where in 1957, the first Black pupils were escorted to classes by military guard for their protection.

For Loving, Nichols again worked with cinematographer Adam Stone (who has worked on all his previous films) to capture the deceptively serene beauty of a place that also masks an undercurrent of danger and malice. The film was shot on location in Virginia, something that the filmmakers felt was important given its significance as home to the Lovings. The towns of Central Point (where Richard and Mildred lived) and Bowling Green (where the local law courts and jail were based) still maintain many of their landmarks, unchanged from the time of their case. Central Point embodies a vision of the South rarely seen on screen (a notable exception being Beasts of the Southern Wild), revealing a small rural town where people are united by poverty, dependent on one another to get by, and form a mixed community with no regard for the segregation practiced elsewhere in the county. Richard and Mildred's relationship was not an issue there until their decision to get married - something they were forced to go out of state to formalise - earned the notice of the authorities.

For actors Ruth Negga (who has been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance) and Joel Edgerton, it was important to have a strong sense of connection with Mildred and Richard, as they were people of few words, a characteristic which has not been embellished for the film. The actors had to research other ways the couple expressed themselves, taking advice from Peggy Loving, Mildred and Richard's daughter. Their physicality also needed to be revealed on screen, especially for Richard, whose body language says so much more than he's prepared to vocalise. Costume designer Erin Benach worked closely with Edgerton, ensuring that the clothing he wore was shaped around Richard's posture and movements, rather than fitting directly to the actor's measurements. Similarly, to bring Mildred's internal life to the screen, Erin designed Negga's costumes to express restraint and dignity under fire, even seen in details such as the design of Mildred's many baby bumps, seeing as it was the Loving's children that formed the catalyst for their landmark legal action.

The Loving's story is an intimate one, shaped by a love that is threatened by injustice. To help depict events as they were, Nichols' film eschews melodrama in favour of showing the pair's quiet dignity, and their ultimate refusal to compromise. Their strong and placid relationship is in high contrast to the brutal intervention they were subjected to by law enforcement that wished to make an example of them. Despite their reserved natures, the Lovings changed history. While not asking for much - or even necessarily for their own sake - what the Lovings quietly demanded set the path for their children and others in similar circumstances to walk; to have a better life going forward. Their legacy is a source of inspiration, proving that you don't need to have a loud voice to stand up to unfair or discriminatory practices.

Loving - Trailer

Elinor Walpole, Film Programmer

Elinor Walpole , Film Programmer

Elinor has a BA in English Literature from the University of Warwick. She has worked as Education and Community Officer for Picturehouse Cinemas, and as Outreach Coordinator for Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

You may also be interested in...

Viewing 4 of 4 related items.

Into Film Clubs

Into Film Clubs

Find out everything you need to know about starting an Into Film Club.

News details

Want to write for us?

Get in touch with your article ideas for the News and Views section.