Imagine a law that prevents you from marrying the person you love, simply because he or she is of a different race. This engrossing Showtime made-for revisits that time in the U.S., just 35 years ago, when 17 states enforced such laws. It’s the best kind of based-on-a-true-story drama, one that offers a much-needed reminder about our history in a measured yet emotionally involving form.
Richard Loving (Timothy Hutton) and Mildred “Bean” Jeter (Lela Rochon) grew up together in tiny Central Point, Va., an island where blacks and whites have always lived side by side. No one thinks much of it when Richard starts dating Bean (short for Stringbean, but she has outgrown that nickname); after all, he races cars with her brother Leonard (Bill Nunn, terrific as always), and the families know each other.
But Bean gets pregnant, and Richard decides to marry her, because “it’s the right thing to do.” Leonard reminds him of the law, but Richard can’t believe anyone would enforce it. He wrong:On their wedding night, the couple is arrested and thrown into jail.
Given the choice by a judge of one to three years in jail or leaving Central Point and not returning together for 25 years, they choose banishment, and move to segregated Washington, D.C.
Richard has trouble finding a job, and takes solace in returning to his racing on weekends. Bean, at home with the baby, is befriended by her neighbors: Blue (Isaiah Washington), a SouthernChristian Leadership Council organizer and sit-in leader; Sophia (Ruby Dee); and hairdressing sisters Leanne (Suzanne Coy) and Marcelle (Sharon Lewis).
The ladies give her a makeover and, more important, introduce her to the civil rights movement.
Chafing under the constraints of her exile and frustrated with Richard’s unhappiness, Bean writes a letter to attorney general Robert Kennedy, explaining her situation. Her letter finally gets action from young lawyer Bernie Cohen (Corey Parker), who does pro bono work for the ACLU and who promises them they’ll be able to go home — someday.
Director-scripter Richard Friedenberg has fashioned a straightforward tale that doesn’t pull any punches. He’s a better writer than helmer, crafting some fine dialogue. But he’s blessed with an excellent cast, led by the reliably understated Hutton. Bean is the center of the story, growing from uneducated country girl to cosmopolitan activist, and Rochon delivers a subtle, stellar perf.
Also fine are Linda Goranson, as Bean’s stern but sympathetic mother, and the always impressive Dee. Washington is an imposing presence as well.
Tech credits are fine, and Toronto stands in suitably for both rural Virginia and urban D.C. As part of his score, Branford Marsalis chose the Curtis Mayfield classic “People Get Ready” and reunited original performers the Impressions to croon it at the end of the pic.