UK Release Date: 1st September 2017
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Francis Lee
Writer: Francis Lee
Starring: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Ian Hart, Gemma Jones
Synopsis: A repressed Yorkshire farmer who spends his time drinking and having passionless sexual encounters finds his eyes opened to the possibilities of life when a Romanian migrant is hired to work with him on the farm and the pair soon develop a romantic relationship.
God’s Own Country has been described in some quarters as the Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain. As much as that comparison works on the surface – that of a homosexual love story set in the wilderness – it only amounts to the tip of the iceberg of what makes Francis Lee‘s feature debut so special. The film is a tale of togetherness in the midst of isolation and the power of love to break through the tough exterior of characters who don’t know how to properly express their feelings. It’s a triumph of British cinema, using the chilly landscapes of a Yorkshire farm to tell a heart-warming tale with themes of immigration, the North-South divide and the spectre of Brexit hanging over its head.
Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is left in charge of the family farm after his no-nonsense father (Ian Hart) suffers a stroke. He spends his days tending to the animals and his evenings getting blind drunk before having casual, emotionless sex with whatever man he can get his hands on, leaving his grandmother (Gemma Jones) to clean up after him. This all changes when handsome Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) is brought on to the farm to help during lambing season. The two bond when they are sent to mend a wall on the far side of the land and their relationship soon becomes physical and romantic.
Lee pulls no punches with his depiction of an isolated protagonist. God’s Own Country opens with a half-naked Johnny puking up his booze-filled guts before heading out to have a surprisingly tender encounter with a pregnant cow – ruminating among the ruminants. We next see him meeting an attractive man at a cattle market and, after their wordless sexual encounter, he rebuffs any chance of future contact. This is a desperately sad man and O’Connor embodies that perfectly, with his chin always turned to the floor and his mouth scarcely opening for long enough to express himself in anything other than unintelligible grunts.
O’Connor’s performance finds a perfect counterpart in Alec Secareanu as the similarly taciturn Gheorghe, who appears far more comfortable in his skin. Wearing an array of woolly sweaters and seemingly always chomping on a Bourbon biscuit, Gheorghe has just the right amount of optimism to coax Johnny out of his shell, and that nuance is nicely played by Secareanu. Their relationship begins as xenophobic antagonism, before boiling over into physical lust and, shortly after, something more tender and honest. O’Connor and Secareanu play the shades of bizarre affection perfectly, allowing this development to feel organic.
That is very much a buzzword for Lee, who ensures that every frame of God’s Own Country has the whiff of reality. The windswept setting and bleak wasteland of opportunity represented by Northern Britain is realised brilliantly, with even the modest prospect of a trip to Bradford dismissed as “daft” idealism. The performances are bracingly real, with Ian Hart’s tough lifelong farmer and Gemma Jones’s put-upon grandmother providing impressive support and texture away from the central romance. It would be all too easy for the film to get lost in a romantic bubble, but Lee always brings his film back down to Earth.
God’s Own Country is a movie of astonishing potency, showing as it does the sexual awakening of a man who had no idea how to express feelings he probably never fully understood, as he is brought out of his shell. It’s acted with emotions that feel real against the backdrop of a setting that is as hopeless as it is picturesque and beautiful. Lee contrasts the simplicity of the characters’ love for each other with the unforgiving complexity of their world. This isn’t just the British Brokeback – it’s a singular, unique love story for the ages.
Pop or Poop?
Francis Lee has delivered an impressive, ambitious movie debut in God’s Own Country which, in a strong year for LGBT cinema, manages to be the pick of a very strong bunch. Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu are believable as two men thrust together by chance and their relationship develops in a way that never stretches credibility, but feels risky and intense in a way that’s exciting.
Throw in some neat social commentary and some beautiful landscapes and you have the recipe for a film that could well take its position as a new British classic.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.