God’s Own Country
by Toby Woollaston
A muddy Yorkshire farm is perhaps not the first place that comes to mind as a backdrop to a burgeoning romance. Yet in his first feature-length film, writer/director Francis Lee has harkened back to his Yorkshire upbringing to craft a story of love and self-discovery among the mud. Lee’s experience of growing up on his own family’s farm in West Yorkshire has certainly influenced the film’s genuine sense of place, painting a Yorkshire countryside that is raw, earthy, muddy, and wet—a little bit like a New Zealand winter.
An only child, Johnny (Josh O’Connor) struggles with the weight of running a failing sheep farm under the watchful gaze of his ailing father. Stubborn, grumpy, and very much the archetypal Yorkshire farmer, Johnny’s father makes Geoffrey Boycott look like a beacon of positivity. His health is failing and leaving the farm for Johnny to manage appears to be inevitable. However, when a farm-hand arrives in the form of a Romanian immigrant named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), it awakens amorous sensibilities in Johnny that he hadn’t previously considered and provides a welcome distraction from the farm’s unbearable loneliness.
Through all its muck and grime God’s Own Country is a beautiful film to watch. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards balances a heady mix of environment, framing and lighting to capture the farm’s bleak and organic nature. The film’s visual tendencies and its economy of dialogue give way to superb physical performances from its cast. Mention must go to Ian Hart as Johnny’s father, who gives a moving portrayal of a stroke victim suffering the frustration of losing both physical and emotional control.
Unsentimental and unflinching in its depiction of gay love, God’s Own Country is raw and explicit in its sexual content and as a result, it is fairly arresting to watch (some might find it too much). However, on the other side of its brutally honest beginnings is a very evocative romantic tale. And although it doesn’t tread far from a typical romantic narrative arc, it remains a touching and poetic depiction of what it means to be a gay man in an isolated community.
You can see my published reviews here.