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God’s Own Country (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

God’s Own Country


Starring Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart, Harry Lister Smith, Patsy Ferran, Melanie Kilburn, Liam Thomas, Moey Hassan, Naveed Choudhry, Sarah White, John McCrea, Alexander Suvandjiev and Stefan Dermendjiev.

Screenplay by Francis Lee.

Directed by Francis Lee.

Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Company. 104 minutes. Not Rated.

It’s not hard to look at God’s Own Country as a UK version of Brokeback Mountain.

After all, it is about two farmhands who are living in a barren mountain area in West Yorkshire, staying alone together in a small shack in the cold as they watch the sheep. At first, they don’t seem to like each other much, but as the weather gets worse they fall into a violent and desperate sexual connection, becoming lovers while they stay on the mountaintop. As this is happening, people down at the farm start wondering if they are becoming intimate, and when they return home, their anger and their inability to acknowledge their love drives a wedge between them.

The film’s director even has the last name Lee in both movies.

From my personal perspective as a viewer, my reaction to God’s Own Country was very similar to my feelings upon first seeing Brokeback, a decade ago now. It is a spectacularly filmed and acted film, full of conflict, harsh times, intriguing characters and a spectacular grand scope. Yet, I found the film easier to respect than to enjoy. Something about it just left me a bit cold.

Perhaps it is the fact that I have very little interest in farming and ranching as a lifestyle. Perhaps it is because I never really built a connection to the romantic coupling at the center of the film. Perhaps it is the fact that it never totally seemed to me these two men were particularly in love to begin with. Their relationship mostly felt aggressively sexual. I’ve seen many same-sex romances where I believed the main characters truly loved each other, or even liked each other, and I honestly didn’t completely feel that here. There was a whole lot of animosity and anger here, particularly on one side of the coupling.

Of course, there are some significant differences from Brokeback Mountain as well. The hard look at the problems of the farming classes on the Isle follows The Levelling from earlier this year as a harsh and disturbing reminder of the mind-numbing and sometimes heartbreaking minutiae of farm life. In fact, this film is even more cutting, many of the farming and ranching scenes are – though probably a fact of life to a farmer – disturbing to watch, to say the least.

Both the farming and the gay sex scenes are pretty graphically shot, more so than in the case of Brokeback Mountain.

When we first meet Johnny (Josh O’Connor), he is face down in the toilet, puking his guts out. We quickly learn that this is not an isolated incidence (his nan sternly tells him, “If you think I’m going to clean up your sick, you’ve got another thing coming” as he leaves to do his work on the farm.)

Johnny shares the farm with this tough old woman (Gemma Jones) and his father (Ian Hart), a bitter man who ran the farm until he was handicapped by a stroke way too young. Now Johnny’s life is a miserable merry-go-round, keeping the family farm going in the day, going to the pub and getting shitfaced at night, often coupled with casual hookups with guys he barely knows. Then he wakes up the next morning in the loo and the cycle starts up again.

When his dad hires a Romanian migrant named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) to help around the farm, Johnny has no interest in the new guy. Gheorghe quickly recognizes what a train-wreck Johnny is, but works hard to keep the farm running smoothly. There is a quick and intense animosity between the men, and when they are stuck together up in the hills caring for the sheep, that animosity boils over into anger and then passion.

Like I said before, there are definitely some differences from Brokeback Mountain, the era, the family situation, the fact that both men were single, and generally God’s Own Country closes out on a more hopeful note.

However, I feel pretty much the same about God’s Own Country as I did when I saw Brokeback. Sometimes you react to a film viscerally and sometimes you don’t. As a critic I can say nothing but positive things about God’s Own Country. I am glad that I have seen it and I have no doubt that it will get awards for quality. It was an incredibly well-done film. However, I doubt I’ll ever be moved to see it again.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: November 10, 2017.

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