Jeff Nichols explores American history with Loving

Film still of Loving © RR

Having ventured into the world of science fiction, Jeff Nichols confirms his desire to see how he measures up to other film genres with Loving: a drama inspired by the true story of the legal battle fought by a mixed race couple to have their marriage accepted in 1950s America.

It has only taken four feature films for Jeff Nichols – singled out in 2011 for the brilliant thriller Take Shelter – to prove that his pragmatic auteur films are one of the driving forces on the current American circuit. The filmmaker has been compared to Terrence Malick for his rigorous, slow, pictorial style, which tends to linger on places, refusing any form of overstatement.

To “shake up” his approach, the Texan recently stepped out of his comfort zone by making a first foray into science fiction with Midnight Special. Loving signals another change of style: this time he tackles a defining episode in America in the 1950s, drawing inspiration from a true story brought into the limelight in 2011 by Nancy Buirski’s documentary, The Loving Story.

Although the director has also returned to one of his favourite themes – the family – he has always, until now, explored it in the throes of meltdown.

Loving retraces the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple from a rural community, forced into exile after marrying in Virginia in 1958 in violation of State law. Nichols portrays their nine-year legal battle to have their marriage publicly recognised. It would end in 1967 with the creation of a “right to love and be loved, regardless of origin”, which changed the American Constitution.

The cast list includes Joel Edgerton, who appeared in Midnight Special, Ruth Negga, who we saw in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and the invincible Michael Shannon, who has been chosen by the director to star in all his films.