A bitter Brexiteer finds love in awful rural England

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

God’s Own Country
Broadway Theatre

Opens Friday 5
3.5 out of 5

One could describe God’s Own Country as a slightly more graphic Brokeback Mountain, but that would be selling it short. The low-budget, emotionally rich drama paints a depressing picture of England’s countryside, with farmers dealing poorly with social change (immigration, homosexuality) and economic depression.

God’s Own Country’s main character isn’t particularly likeable. Johnny (promising newcomer Josh O’Connor) is a young man forced by his father’s disability to manage the family farm. He doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions in a healthy way so he stews in resentment, medicating himself with copious alcohol consumption and anonymous sex.

Johnny is also a closeted gay man to whom the idea of a relationship — or even just a pint with another fella after a quick trip to bang-town — is laughable.

Not really a happy camper, this guy.

Things change with the arrival of Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a gentle Romanian immigrant looking for temporary labour. Much to his chagrin, Johnny — a likely Brexit supporter — is attracted to him, but since he has the emotional skills of badger with mange Gheorghe has to do all the heavy lifting.

God’s Own Country is an impressive feature debut for director Francis Lee. It goes hard for realism and succeeds (you’ll learn more about sheep farming than you ever wanted to know). The movie acknowledges that Johnny and Gheorghe have no future and their hookup has more to do with opportunity than anything else, and it has a knack for sudden yet organic and plausible turns.

As hardened country folk and Johnny’s only family, Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’ mom) and Ian Hart (Professor Quirrell in the Harry Potter series) give quiet and affecting performances of unexpected depth.

There’s arguably one shortcoming that’s not specific to God’s Own Country but to LGBT cinema in general: a predisposition to depict gay romance as gloomy. In Brokeback Mountain one of the cowboys is beaten to death; in Stranger by the Lake and The Talented Mr. Ripley the romantic lead turns out to be a serial killer. Hence the importance of a film like Call Me by Your Name, which balances this toxic trend.

At least God’s Own Country shows the value in even bound-to-fail relationships. As long as they lead to personal growth — a phenomenon beautifully depicted in Johnny’s arc — they’re worth something. If you like your romantic dramas with a side of social critique, look no further.