Brutal honesty in its visuals of farm life as well as its main relationship, God’s Own Country is an intimate look at the life of one gay man living in Yorkshire as the challenges of being isolated and having to do a ton of work at his family’s farm is met in intensity by the budding relationship with a new farm labourer. Director Francis Lee’s debut film tackles the story of Johnny (Josh O’Connor) and Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu)with an incredible amount of nuance as we get to watch the growth of both men and watch how the journeys in one’s life don’t have to be across time and space, but can be internal, small decisions with profound impacts on our lives.
The brilliance of God’s Own Country is that it’s not only concerned with tracking it’s bigger arc, but in revelling the details that make the arcs work. Johnny’s life has been one of isolation, even as he goes into town and has hookups or meets friends. He’s isolated himself from feeling, really. Gheorghe, not only challenges him in his views on the world, but to the core of his character. The two men really struggle with each other and Francis positions us as the viewers to be right in the middle of that struggle by isolating us with the characters as they try to deliver and raise sheep.
Watching Johnny, so used to a quick bang and being the dominant one, and Gheorghe struggle against each other was just a masterful exploration of character. The struggle in the sex scenes explores intimacy in a fascinating way that only the UK filmmakers seem to understand. Francis Lee has a deft hand with the actors and camera, knowing when to use a long take and when to change the closeness of a shot. Sex, in God’s Own Country, is less about the titillation, although it is thrilling, and more about centering the characters and moving the narrative forward.
This film reminds me a lot of Touki Bouki, the brilliant African film from the 70s. Both movies feature interactions with animals (not for the squeamish as the actors are helping with live births and in one instance, having to chop up a dead lamb). Both films show their characters as isolated but looking for a new live as inspired by love. The kind of naturalism shown in God’s Own Country is in perfect harmony with the visual language of the piece, much like Touki Bouki, and the movie is easily one of the must watch films of the year.