GOD'S OWN COUNTRY
Director: Francis Lee
Screenwriter: Francis Lee
Runtime: 104 mins.
Australian release date: 31 August 2017
Previewed at: Verona Cinema, Paddington, Sydney, on 31 August 2017.
Love, or the lack of it, is pivotal in all our lives and God’s Own Country is an insightful example of the transformative power engendered by this emotional state of being. Director and screenwriter, Francis Lee, has delivered a powerful and sensitive first feature that is multi-layered and compelling and places it in the ranks of the best British cinema of the year.
On a farm in a remote part of Yorkshire in the north of England, a dour working-class family is struggling to deal with lambing season, a job that requires the work of two able bodies. Martin Saxby (Ian Hart), the patriarch of the property, has had a stroke and isn’t able to work the farm any more, so he barks orders at his son, Johnny (Josh O’Connor), a disgruntled loner who spends his off hours ‘self-medicating’ at the local pub and engaging in anonymous sex. Johnny’s mother up and left some years ago so the house is run by his equally sullen grandmother, Deidre (Gemma Jones), who ticks Johnny off at every given moment, despite his efforts - for him, it’s a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. The only person to answer an ad for help on the farm is a Romanian, Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), who comes from ‘a dead land because all the young people have left,’ yet who brings with him a lust for life that’s long been missing from this far-flung slice of the moors, and the taciturn family that occupy it.
Gheorghe has a way with animals and knowledge of modern farming techniques; one of the most poignant scenes is the way he revives a new-born lamb and nurses it back to health. As he and Johnny work together, a deeper connection develops between the men and the Romanian’s presence changes life on the farm dramatically. As the men’s relationship becomes more complex and emotions start to rise to the surface, you keep your fingers crossed that Gheorghe will be able to break through Johnny’s steely armour. Joshua James Richards’ camera takes you to the peak of the Pennines and, as the men look out across the bleak, harsh country, you see the truth of the old adage about beauty being in the eye of the beholder. This is the essence of the film - finding love in an environment in which it couldn’t normally flourish.
The performances are all exceptional and graphic sex scenes add to the realism of Lee’s fine script. It will inevitably be considered a Yorkshire version of Ang Lee’s (no relation!) Brokeback Mountain, but this film stands on its own; it’s more like ‘Ken Loach goes to the country.’ The music by the American duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen, comprised of composers Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, soars throughout the drama. However, it is Patrick Wolf’s song, The Days, in the end credits, which contains the lyrics, “…and I long to be carried on, just once to be lifted strong, out of the loneliness and the emptiness of the days…” that really resonates. God’s Own Country is simply stunning.