‘Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) works long hours on his family’s remote farm in the north of England.
He numbs the daily frustration of his lonely existence with nightly binge-drinking at the local pub and casual sex.
But when a handsome Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu) arrives to take up temporary work on the
family farm, Johnny suddenly finds himself having to deal with emotions he has never felt before.
As they begin working closely together during lambing season, an intense relationship starts to form which
could change Johnny’s life forever.
Captivating and broodingly beautiful, God’s Own Country is the award winning
debut feature from writer/director Francis Lee. Bracingly open hearted, this is a thrillingly romantic story set
in the heart of rural Yorkshire. Both poignant and moving, this finely crafted British film
features a host of standout performances, marking it out as an absolute must see.’
OK. So this new British film by writer and director Francis Lee has blown me away. It’s wonderful. Like many people I’ve had to go back to see it again almost immediately afterwards, and I still don’t quite understand how it’s made me want to do that?
It’s had a big impact. Three times now, I’ve seen it.
It’s difficult to plot out all my thoughts on the film in a coherent way, but I want to pin things up here that I love about it, and things I’ve noticed, because I need to get them out.
So… reasons I love ‘God’s Own Country’:
- at last, a decent love story involving two men. It’s hard to emphasise this if you don’t have to consider it, but our culture is so focused on ‘her-and-him’ relationships – in songs, in dramas, in books, in film. Understandably. How refreshing and how vital it is to have a quality drama that tells me about two men growing close and loving each other in the way I and many others know it every day of our lives. We simply don’t get to see this reflected back to us very often.
- it is a love story.
- farming life depicted well. The toughness of running a small family farm when your family is depleted. Nothing is hidden, and the grimness and the tough decisions a family business has to make are explored. Also the heavy expectations on the shoulders of the next generation: that the children in the family are expected to carry on the same work, too. The pressure that this can bring. But the thrill and responsibility of bringing new life into the world as well, and providing your animals with the best of care. The beauty in that.
- slowness… and space. We’re given time to really get to know the characters, through their actions as much as what they choose to say. The dialogue is sparse. I love that. There’s time to think. Time to savour. Time to wonder about their motivations and not necessarily know all the answers.
- while it’s a film about relationships, there’s no sentimentality in there. It’s gritty and real.
- the appreciation of chocolate bourbons and the eating thereof.
- the appreciation of dairy and the eating thereof. Great advert for milk! … and possibly also cheese…
- Johnny’s eye is turned by blond-haired boys dressed in white. A deliberate motif to contrast with Gheorghe? These pale, clean young lads offer fast thrills for him, but little else. Gheorghe is different.
- Gheorghe is the agent of change. He arrives and small improvements begin to happen. Love how this is symbolised: his tenacious care of a weak newborn lamb which Johnny was ready to give up on; moving a lightbulb so that its harsh glare becomes something warmer; sweetening a savoury meal; cooking a more nourishing version and sharing this when times are tough.
- intimacy and tenderness and care. It’s done so well. A touch of the face; the closeness of breath. There’s warmth and sense and excitement. That wonderful feeling with someone you love that it’s okay to touch, and hold, and explore. And provide comfort.
- all the actors put in superb performances. I expect to see them up for awards. It has already been awarded top prize at the 2017 Edinburgh Film Festival – the Michael Powell Award for best British feature film, as well as the ‘Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic’ following its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
- I’m a man who loves nature. I walk on the Yorkshire fells and love their drama, their variety of habitats, and their beautiful isolation. I’ve lived here most of my life. So to see lingering cinematic images of becks trickling down fells, chill rivers inviting you to swim, broad expanses of countryside that open out before you when you climb to the top of a hill – that’s pretty special to me.
- and within nature – birds. Bird calls echo through the film. The curlew and the lapwing as harbingers of Spring. The lone swallow – a migrant bird – which chatters when Johnny lifts the sleeve of Gheorghe’s discarded overalls left behind, hanging on a nail. The magpie, frustrated, trapped alone inside a restrictive cage. The excited calls of sparrows, much later, in a barn store filled with gathered food: a hopeful moment for Johnny if he can play it right.
- that we can fuck up. And that if we have the strength to work through those fuck ups and make amends, we can make things good.
- migrant workers as side-plot, not the big theme. And how moving to another country offers new hope and new purpose.
- family life. Three generations in one home, doing their best to get by. How so much can go unsaid, but is implicity understood.
- that modern dilemma of ‘do you go on to study after school, or do you take the different path?’ As a family farmer your life can seem to have been already laid out for you, regardless of whether you wanted it or not. Bright town lights shine in the distance below Johnny’s family farm – a contrast of the choices he might have.
- masculinity, explored in sensitive ways. The mess of relating and not relating when men are taught it’s unwise to show their feelings.
- caring for frail elderly relatives. I remember the awkwardness of having to look after my grandma when she was really poorly. Having to cross those boundaries.
- touching your father’s hand. Just one of the moments that made the tears flow. Watching my father dying with leukemia in a hospice, I think that was the first time I’d held his hand since I was a boy. Twenty years earlier I’d held his father’s hand – my grandad’s – while I watched him die in hospital in a coma from which he never regained consciousness. Bedside memories.
- the echoes. Reaching out to touch someone’s hand; the gloves; the warm jumper; pasta in the pot and pasta on the table; Martin in the bath and then Johnny in the bath; flowers on the fell and on the table.
- the contrast between brutality and care. The coldness of one concentrating the warmth of the other.
- watching Johnny wake up to what’s around him, and Gheorghe nurturing that.
- I loved a man from overseas myself. A European who came to England. The language games struck a chord, and exploring our differences and how we were the same. He also went to live over the border for a while to study and I’d travel up to see him there while we were together.
- the scent of your loved one’s clothes.
- that one warm light in a cottage on a distant hill.
- the sound of the wind.
- as Gheorghe comes to help with lambing on the family’s farm, there’s a natural shift into Spring. As the land wakes up, so do the boys.
- Gheorghe’s care. Handling lambs; not giving up; holding Johnny… *deep sigh*
- Ian Hart’s fantastic performance as Martin. I was so rapt with the two leads’ storyline it was only on the second viewing that I came to think ‘Wow! This man goes right through the wringer here!”
- the stoic brilliance of Gemma Jones.
- the subtle incidental music by A Winged Victory For The Sullen which complements the film so well. The film depends on natural sound, and when music comes in it’s restrained and downplayed. Having seen the band play live a couple of times I’m thrilled that they’ve contributed to the score. Slow, gentle, emotional music.
- the ‘repurposing’ of offensive names.
- funny lines – “you’re a pain in the arse and not in a good way!” Loved that.
- that it was only on the third watch that I actually took time to appreciate the cinematic sprawls of Yorkshire countryside on the screen. I take it for granted so much I hadn’t even noticed it until then. How this reminded me of Johnny’s awakening, and of my farming friends who sometimes need reminding of the beautiful environment in which they work and for which they take care. They often forget to notice it too.
- a caring person in your life telling you that they’re proud of you. That emotional tug.
- communication. That when it is at the very hardest moment to be able to say something, that that is when the thing gets said.
- being ‘other’ and having the strength and the ability to look after yourself in the times when you face prejudice.
- … and most importantly of all… that there is hope.
‘Some of the greatest romance stories show how one person’s love can
fuel another’s drive for self-improvement. This is the pinpoint focus of God’s Own Country, the feature
debut of actor-turned-filmmaker Francis Lee. For anyone who can remember their young
heart being soothed and captured for the first time, it is as intense as that experience.’
~ Liam Maguren, Flicks.co.nz
Images courtesy of Picturehouse Entertainment on ‘God’s Own Country’ Instagram.
‘God’s Own Country’ – the film website: http://www.godsowncountry.film