Title: God’s Own Country
Rating: Not Rated
Director: Francis Lee
Starring: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart
Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes
What It Is: Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) works long hours on his family’s remote farm in the north of England. He numbs the daily frustration of his lonely existence with nightly binge-drinking at the local pub and casual sex. But when a handsome Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu) arrives to take up temporary work on the family farm, Johnny suddenly finds himself having to deal with emotions he has never felt before. As they begin working closely together during lambing season, an intense relationship starts to form which could change Johnny’s life forever.
What We Think: This debut from Francis Lee sets out in a very uncompromising way as it shows the brutality, poverty, and hardships of farm life and in Lee’s hands it’s clear to see that this is the product of someone who knows and understands the area intimately and in this, it succeeds. When we meet Johnny we realize how small his world is comprising solely of the farm and the local pub, even when he bumps into an old friend who escaped to University he doesn’t see the possibility of a life outside of his current circumstances. However, over time we see him blossom from an angry young man to a loving person and this shift in character is excellent and seems to chime with the change in season. The film has some brilliant portrayals of nature – the lambing scenes are particularly done well and the way they intertwine with the development of Johnny and George’s relationship are particularly good and when the film’s close-cropped shots break out into the wider landscape it’s with beautiful effect. The examination and portrayal of attitudes towards gay relationships in a rural community in 21st century Britain I found really interesting, there is no explicit homophobia but you get the sense that this was coming especially in the scenes in the pub with the locals but this never arrives which I feel was a deliberate ploy by Lee – perhaps a sign of how much has changed and how much progress has been made.
Our Grade: B, Despite that progress Lee shows us that individuals can still struggle with their own sexuality in the context of wider homophobia in society, he tries to examine how Johnny experiences oppression and for this it becomes an important study and informs a better understanding. Comparisons to ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ are obvious but to me, that’s just lazy and this should film ought to be judged on its own merit. I do understand why it’s so revered but overall I have to say I found it all a little underwhelming, it pulls it’s punches and all the ingredients are there but there’s something missing. Rightly all the adoration will go Josh O’Connor’s way but Ian Hart and Gemma Jones were superb and their contributions should not be understated. The scene in which Hart’s character simply says, ‘thank you’ is absolutely heart melting.