God's Own Country (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
One of the year's best-reviewed films of the year, God's Own Country presents an insightful and frank love story between two European men working together on a farm.
Feels authentic and honest in a way few films ever are.
The first feature film from actor-turned-director Francis Lee is the work of a filmmaker wise beyond his years.
Comparisons to Brokeback Mountain are not going to go away any time soon.
Tough sell for audiences to invest in this, outside of the art house or for independent movie lovers. That's a shame. This is a terrific film.
If you still use the word "icky" to describe same-sex relationships and/or marriages, shame on you. The "exit" sign is lit. Go find it.
Presenting as proud and a bit cocky on the outside, depressed and reeling on the inside, 20-something Johnny (Josh O'Connor) spends his downtime drinking heavily and having anonymous hookups with random men. With no intention of talking to his partners again, he scuffles off to drink to a vomitous end and roust himself awake to work on his family's farm in a perpetual rain-soaked Yorkshire town.
His father, Martin (Ian Hart), is subdued and debilitated after suffering a stroke and sees no option but to hire a farmhand to assist with the responsibilities with the lambs and livestock on the property. Johnny's mother is long gone and grandmother Deidre (Gemma Jones) is frustrated with Johnny's self-destruction.
This sets the stage for God's Own Country, a moving, challenging, and rugged story which draws many fair comparisons to Ang Lee's classic Brokeback Mountain, but stands apart despite similarities in plot and sequence.
The hired help is Romanian immigrant Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), who moves into a trailer on the farm. Martin's hope is that with Johnny's wavering consistency, and his lack of ability in keeping up responsibilities, Gheorghe can help stabilize Johnny, but also keep the farm running efficiently. Johnny, miffed, slurs his new co-worker repeatedly as a "gypsy" and largely works in silence with him. However, there is more at play here and soon both men will realize what's becoming a reality between them.
The first feature-length film from former actor, Francis Lee, who wrote the script from elements of his personal life, God's Own Country has no interest in cliche, stilted dialogue, or recreating tropes, until it struggles to wrap things up in the final 15 minutes or so. As moments in the film ring familiar with some viewers, Ennis and Jack's Brokeback coming out to one another is not so much canon as it is a shared experience Johnny and Gheorghe experience here, Lee doesn't constrict the space with which Johnny can gaze, ponder, and consider.
O'Connor gives a terrific performance as a young man, largely isolated, with no happiness to be found, seeing someone with the same interests and desires and realizing life can move in a different way than what he is used to. Johnny is knocked off-kilter by Gheorghe's care and concern about not only the unflinching and ritualistic needs of the farm, but also his overall kindness in general. Gheorghe offers a different path and we recognize that kindness is not something Johnny has been all that exposed to in his life.
Secareanu is a wonderful compliment to further Johnny's story, and his fondness for him comes through vividly, once the realization that they have a mutual interest in one another is shared, as awkward, clumsy, and aggressive as those first meetings initially turn out.
God's Own Country is profoundly unafraid of telling its story and it is a refreshing breath of fresh air to see Johnny and Gheorghe's love depicted on screen in a frank and honest way. Lee's film loses a little steam in its final act when melodrama bleeds into a unnecessarily harried final set of scenes. And though a bit disappointing that some contrived scenes factor into the film's ultimate outcome, we still find ourselves hoping and wondering if Johnny will find eventual peace with his life and who he is, and whether Gheorghe can find a way to have his tender, giving nature recognized and respected.
Beautifully shot by Joshua James Richards, who captures the beautiful picturesque terrain of Yorkshire, alongside the muddy and stained details of a farmhouse, the film is amplified by an ambient, but moving score from Oscar nominee Dustin O'Halloran (Lion) and Adam Wiltzie, under their collaborative known as A Winged Victory for the Sullen.
At the end of the day, a tearful embrace, an acceptance, and a welcoming leaves us smiling. We exit the theater reminded that love is love, and it often finds us when we least expect it. Most of the time, we are all the better having a chance to feel it and experience it. and as Johnny and Gheorghe's stories' intersect for us one last time, God's Own Country reminds us that we all deserve love, no matter who we are, where we are, or what we may have come from.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Josh O'Connor, Alec Secareanu, Ian Hart, Gemma Jones, Harry Lister Smith.
Director: Francis Lee
Written by: Francis Lee
Release Date: October 24, 2017
Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn Films