The melancholic Yorkshire Pennines provide the dreary and rugged backdrop to an intricate migrant gay love story which is subtly underpinned by themes of repressed homosexuality, disenfranchised youth, immigration and racism. God's Own Country follows a recent trend amongst upcoming film-makers to set their story in bleak rural England; with other recent efforts The Levelling and Dark River. The debut feature for newbie director Francis Lee which was released to great praise last September, and now sees a Digital/ DVD/Blu-ray release on the 29th of January 2018.
A lot rests on John Saxby's (Josh O'Connor) shoulders; running a decrepit old farm which he inherits from his stroke ridden father Martin (Ian Hart), a hardboiled domineering grandmother Diedre (Gemma Jones) and plagued by inner demons of an unsolicited burgeoning homosexual desire. Angry and resentful, he channels his frustration on binge drinking as well momentary,self-gratifying unemotional hook ups, whenever he can get them. His mediocre work ethic and output attributed to recurring hangovers and lack of interest, prove a constant disappointment to his disapproving father. Enter the incredibly handsome Romanian farm worker, Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), who Martin hires as temporary help. Gheorghe's presence and agronomic knowhow conjures all sort of feelings in John from instant attraction to inferiority complex to brazen bigotry.
Initially their rapport is a prickly one. The uncouth country pumpkin imposing himself on the subdued educated Romanian farm-boy. Lee, initially keeps any attraction between the two under wraps, whilst exposing the worst in John's foulmouthed and immature nature. John's repetitive use of the ‘Gypo' (referring to Romani gypsies) proves jarring but is cheerily met with Georghe's effective physical retaliation. With John put in his place and frictions between the two riding high, he interprets this sexual tension and makes an aggressive, if clumsy move on Georghe, who surprisingly reciprocates.
As their relationship starts to develop, Georghe manages to beat down John's pent-up rigidness to reveal some semblance of a soft core. This softening becomes the film's driving force. Lee depicts a natural personal transformation, allowing for John to fluctuate between new and old modes of behaviour. Whilst John slowly reveals a gentleness within as well as deep-seated feelings of being lost and neglected, he then juxtaposes this by reverting to old habits. An eye-opening outing, at the local where John lets rip, binge-drinks himself to oblivion and ends ups getting sucked off in the toilet by a random stranger, whilset Georghe waits for him at the bar. Georghe promptly leaves for pastures new; his departure creates tensions at home but also clarity, spurring within John a newly found passion; surfacing a desire to take the helms off his dad and manage the farm his own way.
Lee possess a calming and articulate filming style; using nature‘s elements to create a thematic mood. His use of light beaming through the cracks of a stone barn wall, the tinkering of a cow's bell or the adorable little lambs that Georghe so fondly bottle feeds, whilst John, disconnected, grumpily looks away. All aiding in setting a soothing and easily comprehensible plot pace. Further these features cleverly contrast the couple's personalities. Secareanu's Georghe is sensitive, smart, humble contraditcing John's boorish, hard edge. Secareanu gives a toned-down, almost obedient performance, reflecting the restricted and isolatary feelings of being a foreigner within this rural, often racist pockets. Even in their intimate scenes Georghe remains reserved, never wet or overly dramatic. O'Connor also impresses with a superb interpretation of an angry and aimless youth; coarse, ignorant with copious amounts of displaced hate, indicative of lack of parental love in a conformist status quo.
This striking debut by Lee, not only shows great promise but an already refined and well-crafted talent. As the story unfolds, he gives sensation that its all organically unfolding, all these subtle references he injects at every corner make for a cozy and heart-warming tale, which details the nuances of their relationship and John's unravelling and re-discovery. God's Own Country is a beautiful filmic endeavour that deserves to be seen.
God's Own Country is available on DVD, Blue Ray and Digital from the 29th of January 2018.
Words By Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_