Film Review: GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (directed by Francis Lee)

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by Dale Reynolds on November 16, 2017

in Film


Writer/Director Francis Lee has produced a fine timeless example of love’s rocky path in a contemporary setting. In the Northern part of England, the Laycock area of Keighley in West Yorkshire, we first meet early twentysomething Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Conner) vomiting into a toilet at his farm-home; apparently, one of many such retchings due to his excessive drinking brought on by being a closeted homosexual in a part of the world where such sexual behavior is very much frowned upon. Sex, when it happens, is rushed with no tenderness, kissing or swapping of phone numbers.

His father (veteran actor Ian Hart), an invalid stroke victim, and his grandmother (the versatile Gemma Jones), a hard-nosed but loving widow of farm life, are fully dependent on young Johnny’s help and care of their sheep. Into this fragile family comes a Romanian worker, around Johnny’s age, quietly-sexy Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), there for the lambing season, who is the fulcrum with which Johnny gets straight, as it were.

Lee is familiar with that part of his world and the actors all demonstrate a flinty grittiness that goes with this cultureless world. That Johnny is aware of his sexuality is a plus, along with the learning-curve that comes his way with the arrival of the Romanian, who he at first calls “Gypsy,” but then is stopped almost immediately by the sensitive sheep-herder.

It’s a hardscrabble life for all, although father Martin gets quality NHS help from the local hospital. Nan is not pleased to discover a condom from the lads’ bedding, but says nothing. Martin is made aware and, because of his illness, quietly accedes to his son’s sexual direction.

Shot in the spring, the land is fertile and the sheep stupid. But both young actors take turns helping with a breech birth of an infant kid, and Gheorghe proves his mettle by keeping the kid alive, including skinning a dead newly-born and putting the pelt over the other youngster so the mother will smell it as her own and nurse it. Graphic, but fascinating.

All four of the lead actors are blessed with talent and make the most of their characterizations. In addition, the younger ones display some casual nudity without fuss.

Comparisons are apt with Ang Lee’s 2005 similar powerful drama, Brokeback Mountain, including outsiders’ viewing and condemnation of the budding relationship, but without the tragedy.

The cinematography of Joshua James Richards is deeply penetrating, covering some of the glorious landscape of isolated mountain terrain abutting a city in the distance.

As a gay romance, Gods Own Country doesn’t pull its punches and makes the insecure relationship full of eventual meaning, while telling no lies about the difficulty of ranching in England. It’s a terrific film.

stills © Dales Productions Limited/The British Film Institute 2017

Gods Own Country
Samuel Goldwyn Films
United Kingdom | 2017 | 105 minutes | NR
in limited release October 25, 2017
playing at the AMC Sundance in West Hollywood

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