Under beaten Yorkshire sky, with grime under his nails and the soil clodding steps of his boots, Francis Lee’s outstanding first feature film God’s Own Country is a work of the draft of the alchemy. But instead of gold, out of the mud and the straw, he launches a thrilling true story of gay love. It will inevitably invite comparisons with Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, sometimes almost actively courts them — but it is rare that a movie or one of her characters felt less derivative.
In any case, this is not just a love story. It is also an immigrant tale and an unshakable portrait of rural life at the farm where the war between tradition and change is bitter and has real victims. And Josh O’connor (Peaky Blinders), the film finds a central performance of the authenticity and naturalism that feels like it grew there, planted a few years ago, with a root system that extends for miles under the forbiddingly beautiful moors.
The film is the sense of place, reminiscent of Andrea Arnold viscerally wet and windy, wuthering heights
This sense of place, and tactile immediacy in the detail and the dirt of its wild location, at the time, recalls Andrea Arnold viscerally wet and windy take on wuthering heights, but there was nothing ethereal about Lee’s vision of rural life. Instead, he finds beauty in the details of the skin, fur, dung, spit, vomit, semen, mucus and expulsion of the placenta. Here, the “miracle of birth” and the “circle of life” are captured in the pictures of hens pecking at the egg shells, the sheep lick the mucus from their new-born, or, in a outstanding sequence, a death of the lamb to be well worth the skin and its skin used to be a runt, so it will be accepted by the grief of the mother.
In fact, the first animal to the birth that is happening here is an abortifacient: Johnny (O’connor) is far in bringing a cow on the market, and have an anonymous, illicit sexual encounter with a young man he meets there, while back on the battery enclosure of the cow to which it tended, it dies, giving birth to a half-dead calf. His father, Martin (Ian Hart), whose failing health requires the use of two walking sticks, unambiguous rebuke to his son and leaves it to the mercy killing of the calf for him.
Surly, scowling Johnny lives on, inexorably, in the absence of livestock farm with his father and his grand-mother (a formidable Gemma Jones) in an atmophere of hostility and barked commands followed reluctantly. Martin, all, but the inability, the hiring of a migrant worker to romania to help for a week during the season of lambing and when Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) arrives, it seems at first like it will be just another reason for resentment. Johnny, who is so blind, drunk in the pub, most nights that his mornings are devoted to vomiting, is openly hostile to him, and sneeringly dismissive of his old friends from the region who went to the university. The only clue we get that there was ever nothing more to Johnny than what passes unnoticed earthiness is in the pub, when an old acquaintance, urges him to join her and her college mate for a drink: “It is really funny. You know, like you used to be.”
For his part, Gheorghe takes without complaint the privations of this isolated place, to sleep in a place the caravan in the courtyard and passing the days working with Johnny more often in the silence. But it is excellent in the tasks required of him, and not only the fence-mending of the wall and repair, but the real business of lambing. And during the few days spent away from the farm, in the hills looking after the sheep, living outside of the brand of pot noodles and sleeping next to each other in a ramshackle dependency, Johnny and Gheorghe the relationship becomes the first animalistically sexual (their first roll in the hay, is remarkable for the lack of hay: they rut in the earth), and then, amazingly, Johnny, love. Under the influence of sudden happiness, which is evident in the night rendez-vous and the secret smiles (but maybe not-so-secret Nan sharp eyes) Johnny imperceptible ugly duckling transformation is a quiet joy to see.
Maybe it is time to let the gay love stories, gay love stories, to apologize for their subject matter as little as God’s Own Country does
In the past, when they are confronted with the “gay films of the calibre of clair de Lune, Carol, the next festival, Sundance asked me to Call Me By Your Name, or, now, the God’s Own Country – the films that tell their stories with tenderness and insight, and without a spark of camp – the tendency to review was some sort of claim” for everyone who has ever loved ” or “to the cinema”, in such a way that the defines the notion of “cinema” as a largely heterosexual, effort, and denies their oddity. There is a place for this project – there is a sociological significance, not to mention a financial imperative, in the presentation of gay stories in a way that universalises this experience to a broader (read: mostly heterosexual) audience. But he can’t help but feel like maybe the time of this minutiae is past. Maybe it is time to let the gay love stories, gay love stories, to apologize for their subject matter as little as God’s Own Country.
Unlike many films of this category, it is not out, at least not in the traditional sense of the term — Johnny’s sexuality is pre-determined, however tacit, it may be in the home. If anything, it portrays a painfully, beautifully real character “coming out” as worthy of love, as it is a gift that he didn’t know he wanted and would never have believed that he deserved. This is not in spite of Johnny homosexuals, but because of this, that the journey is so captivating.