Like Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling, God’s Own Country offers visceral insight into the life of an isolated farming family. Both films contain frank visuals of the necessary brutalities of farming and document dormant family secrets coming to a head, while offering broader state-of-the-nation commentary. Where The Levelling fictionalised the Somerset floods, God’s Own Country features a prominent migrant character whose experiences reflect current debates about and attitudes towards immigration.
Francis Lee’s debut feature also presents interesting tensions between the native inhabitants of rural Yorkshire and those who have moved away. Such explorations, however, are all too brief, barely scratching the surface of intriguing issues in favour of tracking the changing relationship between Yorkshire lad Johnny and Romanian Gheorghe.
Similarities to Brokeback Mountain, though they do exist superficially, have been overstated. In contrast to the more conventional Hollywood style of Ang Lee’s 2005 awards juggernaut, God’s Own Country is very light in dialogue and favours immersive, often handheld cinematography, maintaining engagement by emphasising movement and sound.
With its scattering of extended sex scenes it feels closer to Blue is the Warmest Colour, yet neither the characters nor relationship are as well sketched. As Johnny and Gheorghe straddle (and ultimately, surpass) a fine line between violent hostility and sexual passion, this aspect of the narrative feels clichéd. A peripheral storyline concerning illness is approached with greater subtlety and is more affecting. Despite the sparseness of dialogue, God’s Own Country speaks volumes about inarticulacy in myriad forms – Johnny’s withdrawn nature, the consequences of his father’s stroke, the cultural gulf between Gheorghe and Johnny.
Francis Lee’s debut is a lean micro-narrative that largely succeeds in its small scale, though the lead characters are frustratingly undeveloped. God’s Own Country is thematically rich yet quashes its most promising elements by emphasising an uninspired romantic arc.
CAST: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones
DIRECTOR: Francis Lee
WRITER: Francis Lee
SYNOPSIS: 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.