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IMDB description: “Spring. Yorkshire. Young farmer Johnny Saxby numbs his daily frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex, until the arrival of a Romanian migrant worker for lambing season ignites an intense relationship that sets Johnny on a new path.”
Why I Took it Off the List
Summer is winding down and the autumn winds are beginning to blow. It’s not quite time for the pre-Halloween horror marathons, but the ideal time for a melancholy romance that has a somewhat autumnal feel to it.
So, with the release of Francis Lee’s new film Ammonite (2020) with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, I thought I’d take a look at his acclaimed first feature, God’s Own Country.
A bit of a palette cleanser before I dive into a lot of horror reviews during October!
Optimistic. I’ve had this film on my list since it came out a few years ago and got almost universally great reviews, but am not too much of a fan of the typical gay-themed romance movie so kept putting it off.
I finally felt like I was in the mood to check out the film and see if it was as good as most were making out.
Spoilers? Nope, not really much to spoil in this film but what there is I will avoid spoiling!
Review of God’s Own Country
Gay-themed social-realist dramas and especially British-themed ones, in my experience, never have too happy an outcome. More often than not, they usually come with some tragic ending where the central love is thwarted by some defect of an intolerant outside society, the biggest example being Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Even what is probably my favorite gay romance film, Weekend (2011), which is a tender and really enjoyable first-date movie, doesn’t have an entirely optimistic view of its leads chance to continue their relationship once the credits roll.
This is what makes God’s Own Country feel somewhat refreshing, despite basically being a variation of Brokeback set among sheep farmers in the North of England.
But where that earlier Hollywood film continued the doomed-love angle established by many same-sex dramas past, God’s Own Country focuses the drama more on the flawed main character overcoming their own hang-ups in order to make their relationship work, rather than struggling against the unfair prejudices of those around them.
In this film, the ‘issue’ the other characters have isn’t with his gayness, but rather with his own self-loathing and shitty attitude. Which at least makes for a nice change.
The main protagonist of God’s Own Country is, initially, a bit of an unlikeable douche, but somehow Josh O’Connor manages to sell Johnny as a sensitive soul frustrated by his circumstances, despite his off-putting and self-destructive behavior.
Ian, Hart and Gemma Jones also turn in good supporting turns as the weary and put-upon father and grandmother, respectively, of O’Connor’s troubled protagonist.
But the real revelation is Alec Secareanu as the sensitive but world-weary Gheorghe, who simultaneously conveys tenderness and toughness as a character who you can tell has seen a lot but still has his humanity, even without saying very much at all.
What is most impressive about the relationship that unfurls between the two leads is that you feel their growing attraction and understanding of each other even though they barely speak in much depth until we are well into the final stretch of the film.
Beautifully Shot and Moodily Atmospheric
The film immensely benefits from the realistic but languid and dreamy cinematography that conjures a mood reminiscent of another impressive gay romance set in the British countryside, My Summer of Love (2004), minus the crazy cult and Goldfrapp-led soundtrack of that earlier film, of course.
The only downside for me is that, although it might be expected for a film about farmhands falling in love, God’s Own Country can be punishingly slow at times. In the beginning, there are a bit too many shots of the two leads staring distrustfully and then longingly at each other while doing various chores against stunningly beautiful backgrounds.
However, this slow build-up eventually pays off as the film eventually falls into an engaging rhythm, and, when shit inevitably starts to hit the fan in the relationship between the two, you feel more invested to see them overcome their obstacles and find some kind of happy ending.
Also bonus points for using a track by the awesome Patrick Wolf over the lovely end credits sequence.
Final Score: 7/10
Worth Checking Out?
Yes, although somewhat a bit predictable and derivative, and slow at times, God’s Own Country is worth checking out for the great performances and relatively optimistic depiction of a same-sex relationship in rural backwaters.
God’s Own Country (2017)
Written and Directed by Francis Lee
Cast: Josh O´Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart
Stay tuned for my next review, when I’ll be starting a month-long slew of horror reviews during October in the run-up to Halloween!
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