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 dire picture of England’s countryside, with farmers dealing poorly with social change (immigration, homosexuality) and economic depression.
God’s Own Country’s main character is strangely unlikeable. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is a young man forced by his father’s disability to manage the family farm. Not one capable to deal with his emotions in healthy fashion, the farmer festers in resentment and only finds solace in alcohol consumption and anonymous sex. Johnny is also a closeted gay man, but the idea of a relationship, as limited as going for a pint with another fella, is laughable for him.
Things change with the arrival of Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a gentle Romanian immigrant looking for temporary labor. Much to his chagrin, Johnny -who is also a racist- becomes attracted to him, but he has the emotional skillset of a teenager and Gheorghe must do all the heavy lifting.
An impressive feature debut for director Francis Lee, God’s Own Country goes for realism and succeeds (you’ll learn more about sheep farming than you ever wanted to know). The movie doesn’t shy away from the fact Johnny and Gheorghe’s hookup has more to do with availability than anything else.
The film also has a knack for taking sudden -yet completely organic- turns, linked to the unsustainability of farm-living. As hardened country folk, Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’ mom) and Ian Hart (Professor Quirrell in the Harry Potter series) deliver quiet and affecting turns of unexpected depth.
As per God’s Own Country, there is value in even bound-to-fail relationships as long as they lead to personal growth, a phenomenon beautifully depicted in Johnny’s arc. If you like your romantic dramas with a side of social critique, look no further. Three and a half planets (out of five).
God’s Own Country is now playing at the Roxy Theatre.