God’s Own Country (written and directed by Francis Lee) tells the story of Johnny (Josh O’Connor), a young man living and working with his infirm father (Ian Hart) and grandmother (Gemma Jones) at their family’s remote Yorkshire farm.
His father’s stroke has left him physically incapable of running the farm, leaving Johnny with the responsibility of keeping it going. It’s a classic tale of someone trapped by a sense of duty while peers escape to the wider world.
Johnny’s only releases from his burden are drinking himself senseless every night and snatched sex with men whenever a suitable opportunity comes his way. His life changes when Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a migrant worker from Romania, arrives to help with the lambing season. At first Johnny is hostile towards to the far more affable Gheorge but, gradually, the pair develop a relationship.
The film has been described in some quarters as the Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain, which seems a lazy and obvious comparison, but actually there are scenes instantly reminiscent of that movie. The big difference between the films, however, is that Johnny and Gheorge are entirely at ease with their sexuality. There is never any guilt or angst about what has just happened, which is completely refreshing. The focus, instead, is on the two men’s different approaches to sex and intimacy (or lack of it in the case of Johnny).
All of this is set against the stunning beauty of the Yorkshire countryside and the cinematography is exquisite throughout, underpinned by a pervading and eerie sense of remoteness and isolation. It also captures and bottles an atmosphere that is unmistakeably British. We have all found ourselves in a village pub like that, with characters like that, at some point. It is somehow instantly familiar.
All involved act superbly but top plaudits go to O’Connor, largely known up until now, certainly within my family anyway, for his portrayal of Larry in ITV’s The Durrells. Johnny is not a likeable character initially, but from the get-go O’Connor subtly conveys a feeling that deep beneath the angry exterior and abrupt manner lies a heart. He does care when things go wrong, he’s just too chaotic and lost to have done something to prevent it happening in the first place. Johnny’s emotional journey though the film feels believable and utterly real.
A classic tale it may be, but God’s Own Country is faultless in its execution. This is the first full feature from Francis Lee, who is surely someone to look out for in the future.