European films

God’s Own Country film review: gay love story set in the Yorkshire countryside

Bleak, beautiful, raw and powerful, newcomer Francis Lee’s film about an embittered farmer’s son and an itinerant labourer matches its northern English upland setting

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 5:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 5:55pm

4/5 stars

The economic woes of Britain’s farmers have been the backdrop to several films recently, including The Levelling and Dark River. But none has been better than Francis Lee’s directorial debut.

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A gay love story set in the majestic but unforgiving Yorkshire Dales in northern England, God’s Own Country has been dubbed a British Brokeback Mountain, although it is far more rough and ready than Ang Lee’s touching tale of cowboy love.

At the centre of the story is Johnny (Josh O’Connor), a twenty-something who is deeply frustrated with his lot looking after his family’s sheep farm after his father (Ian Hart) is left incapacitated by a stroke. With Johnny’s mother long gone, the only other family member around is his grandmother Deirdre (Gemma Jones).

Self-medicating through drinking binges, Johnny is as embittered as they come, and long since left behind by his peers who went to university. On top of this, his feelings towards men have been deeply repressed. But when a Romanian casual worker, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), comes to the farm to help out during lambing season, that all changes.

Following an antagonistic beginning, when the ugly side of Johnny’s personality spills out, the two are forced to spend a night together as they repair a fence in an isolated part of the farm. Sex soon follows, shocking not in its graphic content but in its unexpected and raw, almost angry, power.

It will come as no surprise to learn that Lee is a former actor; he draws fine performances from his cast. O’Connor is marvellous as the monosyllabic, self-destructive Johnny; you can read the pain and confusion etched deep into his face. Secareanu complements him, although Ian Hart almost steals it as the father.

With a sparse ambient soundtrack matching the bleak cinematography, the results is an impressive and distinctive film. There’s no question that Lee is a bold new voice in British cinema.

God’s Own Country opens on September 27

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