When God’s Own Country was released, numerous publications referred to it, rather unimaginatively, as ‘Britain’s Brokeback Mountain’. While I’m not dismissing either film, comparing them to each other – for the only apparent reason that they feature a gay couple and farms – does both a disservice. After all, how many films featuring straight couples are almost universally billed as ‘the British Godfather’ or the ‘American Bridget Jones’ Diary’?
Francis Lee’s debut, set in the sparse landscapes of Yorkshire, is a picturesque and haunting examination of isolation, poverty and the harsh realities of rural life. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) lives and works on his family farm, single-handedly since his father Martin (Ian Hart) suffered a stroke which left him unable to walk unaided. Lambing season sees the arrival of Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secăreanu), a Romanian migrant worker whose presence is somewhat of an insult to Johnny, who believes that he does not need the help.
The initial, antagonistic relationship between the two young men warms to something tender as they are forced to sleep in an abandoned barn while doing the eweing, and Johnny’s previously violent and rushed sexual encounters with other men are contrasted by the gentleness of Gheorghe.
The dialogue is minimal, almost non-existent as Johnny interacts with his father and grandmother (Gemma Jones) exclusively in grunts and monosyllabic utterances, and the family are unable to communicate any element of warmth towards each other as they eke out a fragile living in a industry that is harsh and unforgiving. Johnny’s heavy drinking is yet another source of conflict between the Saxby family as they move almost silently between the cramped rooms of the dated farmhouse.
O’Connor and Secăreanu’s performances are beautiful and difficult. O’Connor captures the deep bitterness of Johnny as he watches school friends return from university, angry that he is forced to live in the ‘real’ world, while Secăreanu’s understated tenderness in the role of Gheorghe is a joy to watch as he tries to address the emptiness in Johnny’s soul.
If you enjoy original British film that’s not another fecking period drama, romance, indie film, or simply men in very good knitwear, this is a film I would 100% recommend. Perfect for an autumnal film evening. Watch while wrapped in so many blankets you resemble a cocoon.