As easy as it is to liken God’s Own Country to the similarly themed Brokeback Mountain, doing so is only ultimately stripping Francis Lee‘s film of its own identity. A moody and haunting emotional journey for its protagonists, God’s Own Country is a slow burning, though rewarding drama propelled by a duo of strong performances from relative unknowns Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu as farmhands who unexpectedly ignite a passion within each other.
Against the harsh backdrop of a droll Yorkshire spring, Lee manages to capture both the setting’s unrestricted beauty and overt isolation reflected in the sullen Johnny (O’Connor), a farmer who numbs his existence with alcohol and anonymous, casual sex. Proving relatively unlikeable with his self-destructive behaviour and general disregard to those around him, it’s a testament to both Lee and O’Connor that we remain as invested in Johnny as we do, and it’s through the arrival of Romanian farmhand Gheorghe that he finally feels something of worth.
With his calm demeanour and brooding good looks, it’s an easy ask to connect with Gheorghe, and as much as we know a romance will develop between the two, Lee paces himself in getting to their eventual union with the two aggravating each other from their introduction; Johnny refers to Gheorghe as Gypsy, a term he completely detests. As we witness in an earlier tryst that Johnny avoids any personal connection with his sex partners, it’s all the more effective when, on an overnight venture, he and Gheorghe act on their impulse.
There’s a raw, graphic energy present in the sexual scenes between Johnny and Gheorghe – the actors appearing refreshingly unselfconscious in their naked state – but it’s in the moments after that God’s Own Country holds its weight. It becomes increasingly evident that this is more than just a physical release for both men, and the film beautifully suggests their individual emotional needs, but there’s a constant lingering of self-demolition on Johnny’s half that you pray the film won’t address.
Whilst there’s a broader appeal in something like Brokeback Mountain, God’s Own Country continues the strong showcasing of gay relationships in cinema that has proven so effective in recent features like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name by detailing a love story that, despite its same-sex players, is just as honest and relatable as its contemporaries.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
God’s Own Country hits cinemas tomorrow, 31st August 2017