The words, “God’s own country” imply a kind of beautiful majesty. But what if such a thing was a prison sentence? For a young Yorkshire farmer life in a Northern town working on his Dad’s farm is one where hard graft leaves you feeling isolated and lonely. The film God’s Own Country is a brooding romance between two young men who initially seem like unlikely lovers until they eventually fall in love.
The film is the directorial debut for Francis Lee and is a semi-autobiographical one. At times this character study is like a love letter to the life that Lee once lived before he got involved in the arts. But at other moments you feel like the slow pacing and the quietness of it all is too stifling and that part of the problem may be due to Lee being too close to the source material.
Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) is a troubled man who has been forced to bid farewell to his mates while they’ve left town to go on to brighter things like university. Life for Johnny however, has remained stagnant and difficult. He has to work on a farm he is not emotionally invested in because his father (Ian Hart) is unwell. His gran (Gemma Jones) can also only do so much. So Johnny decides to ease the pain in his life by going out at night and getting wasted. This is not advisable in many jobs but it’s especially troublesome on the farm when a cow dies on what should have been his watch.
As lambing season approaches Johnny’s family hire a Romanian immigrant named Gheorghe Ionescu (a handsome Alec Secareanu) to help out. Gheorghe is a much more likeable character than Johnny and is like the day compared to the latter’s night. This is because Gheorghe is a kind, gentle and appreciative soul who loves working on the farm. Initially the two young men avoid each other, but eventually they come to have graphic sex and fall in love. This is a great development for Johnny because Gheorghe helps to soften his tough and hardened exterior.
The images in this film are stunning and courtesy of cinematographer Joshua James Richards (Songs My Brother Taught Me). The soundtrack is very minimalist as is the dialogue at times. Despite this, the two lead actors work hard with the material they are given and put in good performances. They also share an obvious chemistry, which means that the comparisons to Brokeback Mountain seem appropriate at times. But God’s Own Country has a lot of other elements in it too, like some brutal depictions of country life. Some audience members will be pleased not to see things like skinned and dead lambs ever again.
God’s Own Country is ultimately a film that explores sexuality, people and place. It’s an intense love story between two unlikely bedfellows and in a climate that is unforgiving and rugged. This dramatic film is proof that passion and romance can be found in the world’s most remote place.
Originally published on 29 August 2017 at the following website: http://sydneyscoop.com/arts-entertainment-reviews/gods-own-country/