Film review: ‘God’s own country’

Johnny Saxby works on a farm in the Pennines in Yorkshire. His is a brutal existence –  a life of quiet desperation, living with his grandmother and father. Every night is spent binge drinking in the local pub. Every day is spent labouring on the farm by himself – his father’s stroke has rendered him unable to help with the gruelling manual work. Apart from drinking, his only other outlet is anonymous gay sex in trailers with trainee auctioneers at the local cattle mart. Bitter and disillusioned he lashes out at his old school friend, home from university for the weekend. His lonely life seems like a prison.

It’s lambing season and a migrant Romanian worker Gheorge is hired for the week to help out. Gheorge will be living in the caravan beside the farmhouse.

Johnny treats him with casual contempt and xenophobia – this is Brexit Britain. They load up their supplies of pot noodles and head out to the paddock to start birthing sheep.

Gheorge expresses his awe at the beauty of the countryside, and displays a tenderness towards the lambs, that is alien to Johnny. The tension between them build and finally reaches boiling point, erupting one morning before daybreak. They get better acquainted. In the cold mud.

‘God’s own country’ is an absolutely wonderful film.  Created by director Francis Lee (who apparently grew up on a farm similar to the one portrayed here) it really is a remarkable piece of work. The picture it paints of a lonely life, stifled by circumstance is powerfully portrayed. The character of Johnny is played very subtly and convincingly by Josh O’Connor. He creates a vivid character, silently drowning, and who desperately wants to grab the lifeline thrown by Gheorge but not sure how to do so (‘I don’t want to be a fuck-up any more.’)

As he falls for the beautiful farm labourer he starts noticing the beauty of the harsh landscape.

It certainly doesn’t paint a romantic picture of farm life – it seems relentless and grinding. But it is all the more impressive for it.

Of course being a story of two gay farmers will lead to comparisons with ‘Brokeback Mountain’. That is an automatic but unnecessary comparison. This film – while less cinematic and ‘grand’  – is more convincing a story, and less political (which gay films still tend to be thanks to their scarcity). It is also far more modern.

It is refreshing to see a film where two men together, don’t provoke an outpouring of condemnation from their society – their friends and family while not exactly waving rainbow flags, are quietly accepting.

Even better, neither of the main characters dies at the end.

This film is playing in the IFI and the Lighthouse cinema the moment.

Highly recommended.

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