Film Review: The Loving Story

Beautifully made, deeply inspirational documentary about one history-making couple.

The most romantic film of the year, hands-down, is the appropriately titled The Loving Story. Nancy Buirski‘s documentary charts the experience of Richard Loving, a white man, and his wife Mildred, part black, part Native American, whose marriage was declared illegal by their home state of Virginia in 1958. They were given a suspended prison sentence and banished from the state for nine years through then-extant miscegenation laws, but the couple resolutely refused to leave each other, or their home. Enlisting the help of the ACLU, their case eventually made its difficult way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, in 1967, the laws against interracial marriage were finally struck down.

Using abundant, amazingly fresh, newly discovered film footage shot half a century ago by Hope Ryden and Abbot Mills, who were intent on recording the Lovings, plus photographs and interviews, Buirski creates a compelling, deeply human and context-savvy portrait of this seemingly most ordinary, yet extraordinary, of couples. Intimate footage of the Lovings reveals them to be a boon to the camera as well, strikingly attractive: she a willowy beauty, and he a handsome, All-American crew-cut jock, like Mickey Mantle or one of the early astronauts. The affection they freely share before the camera is even more impressive, as are their two lovely children playing about them. It was love at first sight for him, he says, and he backed this up with a steely determination to pursue his right to, in his words, love, marry and be with the woman he loved.

The self-effacing modesty of these two undeniable national heroes at the time is all the more striking in this day of blinding promotion and egomania for the paltriest of pursuits, media self-elevation. Their words are few and simple, if always well and carefully chosen, and it’s significant that neither of them even went to the Supreme Court on the day their case was presented. “I was already too nervous,” she admits, while he simply says he had absolutely no intention of going. Luckily, their lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Phillip Hirschkop, both of them still vibrantly alive today, were eloquent enough to win the day before Justice William O. Douglas, an event which was followed by the overturning of the laws against mixed marriages in 16 states, with the exception of Alabama, which did not do so until 2000.

Sadly, in one of those happenstances which makes you question the existence of God, Richard was killed eight years later, mowed down by a drunk driver, while Mildred managed to live on without him until 2008. But their bond remains imperishable, preserved on film as it has been here, and the greatest testament to the unshakable power of love.