God’s Own Country, a film by writer/director Francis Lee, is a story that worms itself into your mind and lingers there for days. I downloaded and watched the movie a few nights ago, enjoying it so much I bought a digital copy to watch over again. The film is a moving pastoral about the life of a lonely, gay farmer living in the north of England who comes to terms with his sexuality when he meets a Romanian migrant worker hired to help during sheep herding season.
Critics have called God’s Own Country the British Brokeback Mountain; but where the American film and story played to minimize anxious audience fears and prejudices, Mr. Lee’s film takes advantage of the years and civil rights advances the gay community has achieved since Brokeback and delivers a tour de force unlike any other film of this genre I’ve seen before. The result is a quiet, moving rumination on loneliness, friendship, duty, and intimacy between two men of different backgrounds who find common ground to turn their strife into something worth working and living for.
Josh O’Connor plays Johnny Saxby, the reckless English farmer who drowns his loneliness every night drinking at a local pub or having anonymous sex wherever he can find it. O’Connor’s raw performance is captivating and engrossing, and it is no wonder he’s won best actor awards for his role. The film’s true gem, however, is Alec Secareanu who plays the Romanian Gheorghe Ionescu. It’s Gheorghe’s calm, steady, responsible, and compassionate demeanor that tames Saxby’s temper, showing him what is probably the first moment or example of tenderness he’s ever experienced in his life. The two actors/characters together display a dynamic of wills and temperaments that is fascinating to watch, and in the expert hands of these two wonderful actors, it is hard not to wish for them to find a common ground that will allow both to find happiness.
Francis Lee’s film is a quiet meditation on loneliness, work, isolation, love, and connection. There are no special effects, superheroes, explosions, or fast paced chase scenes in this movie. Rather, God’s Own Country takes its time telling its story, lingering in places to give viewers a sense of place and time. The film’s most captivating moments are when both Alec and Gheorghe take the herd to graze in the country where the landscape becomes as much a character in the film as the protagonists. Here, in their isolated mountain, both characters let their raw, wild passions loose; the battle of wills becomes as powerful as when two men have sex together — and they do! The film, while graphic at times, is far from pornographic, rendering images of sexual desire that are both alluring and insightful. Director Lee does not linger on any body part or action, but lets the act become as much a part of the story as the animals, fences, and rooms in a scene. Lee’s is a work of love that is worth seeing and deserving of all the accolades it’s received so far.
If you have iTunes, Amazon video, or any service that is currently showing/renting God’s Own Country, I recommend this film for viewing. I haven’t seen or enjoyed a story like this in a long time. Lee’s story is one that will captivate and live in your mind for days.