God’s Own Country, the story of a young sheep farmer whose binge drinking and meaningless sexual encounters mark his life day by day, has been commonly deemed the “British Brokeback Mountain.”
Admittedly, I too drew this lazy comparison within the first 20 minutes of the film, but as the story of our lead Jonny Saxby (played by Josh O’Connor) develops, I found that to measure his tale against that of Brokeback Mountain is not giving this captivating new film nearly enough of its own justice. God’s Own Country is a visually stunning portrayal of a gay relationship driven by the beauty of the story’s natural setting and the ridiculously mesmerizing lead performances.
Francis Lee’s feature directorial debut takes place in the Yorkshire Moors, where Johnny Saxby lives with his father and grandmother. Everyone that he knew from school has moved on to far off universities or onto other ventures, leaving him behind in his toxic soul-searching routine. Days are spent working on the dreary looking farm, and his nights find him at the local pub drinking himself to oblivion. The cinematography in this film plays such a major role in the characterization of the farm and rural Yorkshire. With harsh, dreary shots of the lone pub at night, or the dark and isolated farm, there is still somehow a beauty to be found within these bitter and bleak portraits. The same juxtaposition of beauty behind gloom exists within Johnny Saxby, who despite a harsh exterior and unhealthy habits, allows himself to fall in love and be loved.
The object of his affection is a man Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker who comes to arrives to the farm to help out. Played by Alec Secareanu, both he and O’Connor do an excellent job at bringing this relationship to life. This film is not in anyway dialogue driven. While the dialogue given is quality, the film’s strength lies more in presenting very physical scenes and using physicality to express emotion. O’Connor and Secareanu make this work very well, as the relationship between these characters grows from indifferent to romantic to interconnected. Gheorghe helps Johnny to learn more about himself and introduces him to his full potential. He breaks down his walls and we the viewer are given the chance to watch this growth.
This story is in no way political. It’s not about the outside pressures of being gay or the oppression they’d face. This story rather centers on the two men and everyone else and their issues falls to the background. God’s Own Country is such a specific tale of two farmers in Yorkshire and yet it feels universal. Francis Lee does a stellar job bringing this unapologetic story to the screen in his debut.
The film opens October 25.