Title: God’s Own Country
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Francis Lee
Music: A Winged Victory For The Sullen
Cinematography: Joshua James Richards
Harry Lister Smith
British filmmaker Francis Lee’s groundbreaking debut feature, 12 years after Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005), Lee patterns after a similar love story which is blissfully executed with flying colors and admirably complied with an updated positive vibe to reflect today’s queer ethos.
Josh O’Connor plays Johnny, a young man lives in his family farm in the rural Yorkshire with his recently stroke-afflicted father Martin (Hart) and grandmother Deirdre (Jones). He is stuck in a rut both physically and mentally, abandoning himself to drinking into oblivion and casual rough sex, there is a tenuous seepage of intent to shuck off the tough carapace called life, but how can he? Barely feels loved at home and elsewhere, therefore he is incapable of love, what he needs is a guide, a life coach, and this luxury materializes in the form of Gheorghe (Secareanu), a Romanian migrant worker who lends a helping hand during the lambing season, Josh’s blokeish coping strategy to a stranger is gradually encroached through the exclusive time the two spend together working all day and sleeping under the same roof at night, once the carnal knowledge is kindled (started with a sensuous mudflat tussle and segues into more tender intimacy days after), a congenial bonding process takes its inchoate existence, compounded by Martin’s another stroke and reaches a moratorium with Gheorghe’s abrupt leave (parochial racism gives homophobia a run for its money in this case).
Status quo is forever broken once love has been tasted, and taking on the responsibility as the householder, Johnny needs to do things in his way, but not without both Martin and Deirdre’s consent, which is limned with subtle yet earnest felicity through Lee’s earthy, touching script, which is fused with his autobiographical touches but never undercuts the story’s pulsating veracity in its characterization. For once, a gay romance sincerely earns an auspicious ending in lieu of playing up pathos or resorting to hokey ambiguity, GOD’S OWN COUNTRY is Lee’s masterpiece, impeccably marries its indigenous elements (sheep’s parturition, lamb’s death and flaying are all given an unadulterated presentation) with Johnny’s own rite-of-passage, learning to open up his heart and allow someone into his world, to feel the purity of love and thrill, to be honest, responsible and sensible.
Newcomer Josh O’Connor delivers a visceral, unforced, achingly arresting performance and is particularly impressive in revealing Johnny’s rougher edges, whereas Alec Secareanu oozes more world-savvy gravitas with a more practical attitude, yet is also able to radiate soul-reaching warmth over a single gaze when the story requests, both bring a fresh look on the urbanized gay stereotypes and brings home the film’s simple credo: love is love, it can be germinated between any two human beings, no prerequisites are needed. Veterans Ian Hart and Gemma Jones are also worth their salt in pitch-perfect register of their roles’ inner thoughts whether garnished with wording or its vehement connotations.
Years to come, and seen through rose-colored glasses, GOD’S OWN COUNTRY will be enshrined as another touchstone of queer cinema, even if it were only for his devout naturalism and humanism, Francis Lee should join the ranks of Ang Lee, Todd Haynes or at least his fellow countryman Andrew Haigh, as a high priest in chasing the hidebound hetero-normativity into obsolescence.