Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex—now playing in select theaters—brings to the screen the early career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones). In 1972, the future Supreme Court justice is asked by her husband, tax attorney Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), to co-argue an appeal case in Denver. What Ginsburg perceives, however, is how this seemingly simple case might unlock decades of gender-discrimination. In addition to being an exhilarating legal drama, On The Basis of Sex proves “valuable as a snapshot of how a mutually supportive marriage between two equals can work,” explains Time Magazine. It was their marriage, explains Leder, “so full of love and equality that really spoke to our film and spoke to the metaphor of the movie.”
To pay tribute to the pair at the heart of On The Basis of Sex, we’re showcasing other great films about married couples who helped change the world. From lovers who stood up to racial inequality to a woman who cared for her husband’s failing body so his mind could unlock the universe, these films explore the power unleashed in the pursuit of a more perfect union.
The Theory of Everything | To infinity and beyond
In bringing to the screen the remarkable life of superstar theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (in an Academy Award®-winning performance by Eddie Redmayne), James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything highlights the love story that propelled it forward. Falling in love with his future wife Jane (Felicity Jones) and discovering his life’s work at the same time he learned he had ALS, Hawking experienced as a young man firsthand the seemingly cruel laws that make one feel alone in the universe. This story, however, is not only about Hawking, but about, as Marsh points out, “how these two characters, these two real people transcend all the complications and curveballs that life throws at them." Indeed, as The Washington Post suggests, the film provides in the end “a spirited, affecting meditation on marriage…[and] a relationship that, while far from ideal, bears celebrating, if not emulating entirely.”
The Danish Girl | Beyond marriage
In telling the story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl illustrates how a failed marriage can actually bring out the real love both partners have for each other. As Einar Wegener, Lili was happily married to Gerda Wegener (in an Academy Award®-winning performance by Alicia Vikander). But as she transitions, the married couple must navigate uncharted waters to forge a new, deeper relationship. “She carries a lot of pain, but she is always brave enough to rely on the true love she feels,” Vikander says of Gerda, who must lose a husband for Lili to emerge. For Paste, “Redmayne and Vikander are equally compelling, treating their characters’ arduous attempts to transform themselves—and, also, to reconfigure their ideas about each other, and the future—with graceful precision.”
Darkest Hour | Love and war
In Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman won a Best Actor Academy Award® for his portrayal of Winston Churchill attempting to steer his country during a period of imminent peril. With Nazi Germany ready to attack, his fellow politicians unable to find unity, and a nation struggling under economic hardship, Churchill had only his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) to confide in. “They were both very volatile, complicated characters,” explains Thomas, who “were devoted to each other but had a very stormy relationship.” With the world falling down around them, Churchill found in her the confidence he needed to keep going. Darkest Hour shows, explains The Hollywood Reporter, “how completely Churchill’s wife Clemmie understood her often difficult but brilliant husband.”
Loving | Love wins
The heroes of Jeff Nichols’ Loving, Richard and Mildred Loving, never set out to change the world. Played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga (in an Academy Award®-nominated performance), the mixed-race couple were pushed onto the frontline of history by Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws by simply exchanging wedding vows. "Before it's a story about racial equality or marriage equality—which it is,” explains Nichols, “it's a love story.” The Lovings allowed the ACLU to argue their case before the Supreme Court simply because they wanted to return the land they grew up in to raise their family. “The placidity and happiness of this union are plausible because Negga and Edgerton make these noble people three-dimensional,” explains The Globe and Mail, “turning a docile, unambitious couple …into unlikely protagonists in the civil-rights movement.”
The Zookeeper’s Wife | Brave hearts
Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper's Wife brings to light the heartbreaking story of a married Polish couple, Jan and Antonina Żabiński, who saved the lives of hundreds of Jews by hiding them from the Nazis in the Warsaw Zoo. Portrayed by Johan Heldenbergh and Jessica Chastain, the couple played to each other's strengths in order to stand up to the insidious German forces. “Jan was a doctor, very much the brains of the operation, but she was the heart,” explains Caro. Together they risked torture and death to reclaim a sense of humanity during one of the most inhumane periods of history. “Spending time with them, even when hard to watch…is inspiring,” explains The Seattle Times. “You leave wanting to know more of their story.