Festival Review: God’s Own Country (2017)

God's Own Country

A gay romance set high in the Yorkshire moors, Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country is a no-nonsense evocation of hard-won life in the country.

Far From The Madding Crowd

by Mark Wilshin

God’s Own Country

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Filmed and set on the hillside where first-time feature director Francis Lee grew up, God’s Own Country is an evocative depiction of being gay and experiencing love for the first time in the Yorkshire moors. It takes place in Keighley’s farming community, in the mud, barns, pastures and bloody birthing of a sheep farm. It’s a domain ruled by Martin (Ian Hart), crippled after a stroke, and his mother Deirdre (Gemma Jones), a heritage destined to be passed on to the next generation. But Jonny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) can’t get his life in order, filling his loneliness with anonymous sex and desperate drinking until he vomits. His outness is never really made clear; he insists to Romanian farm help Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) that they can spend the night together in his bedroom but aside from this ambiguity with his family, there never seems to be anyone else around for him to come out to.

Rather than identity confusion though, Lee’s film concentrates on the emotional confusion of falling in love, as Jonny and Gheorghe move into the top field to take care of the lambing. Despite affectionately calling each other “faggot”, homophobia, internalised or otherwise, has little place in these here hills; only Jonny’s grandmother cries briefly into her ironing while Martin swallows any reservations he might have for the sake of the farm. Instead, God’s Own Country offers a delicious textural experience of the farm and the market forces threatening it. Josh O’Connor is exceptional as beast of burden Jonny, and while the dialogue feels occasionally clumsy, Francis Lee’s debut is an accomplished and affecting romance as well as a heartwarming story of growth through love.

God’s Own Country is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival

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