A film depicting the passion between two men in a rural environment is inevitably going to invite comparisons with Brokeback Mountain, but aside from that small element of the plot, God’s Own Country is entirely its own movie. And fortunately nobody in God’s Own Country has to be married to Anne Hathaway. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) lives with his distant father and taciturn grandmother on a farm in rural Yorkshire. He unenthusiastically carries out his duties while spending his nights in a haze of binge drinking and anonymous sex. He doesn’t much respect himself, nor does he respect the willing boys who submit to him. When asked by one of them if he would like to meet up for a drink another time, his response is one of incredulity.
The farm needs help, and it arrives in the form of Romanian worker Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu), who has come to assist during the lambing season. Johnny’s disapproval of the newcomer is mixed with curiosity, and even envy, as he watches Gheorghe’s easy intimacy with the animals in their care. Gheorghe thinks nothing of giving a struggling newborn lamb mouth to mouth, for example. While sudden, the passion between the men (which starts in a fairly potent battle for domination) doesn’t come out of left field, and is a rather organic development.
Director Francis Lee shoots large chunks of the film in sustained close-ups, inviting an immediate intimacy with the characters, even though it’s the ability to be emotionally intimate that is holding back Johnny’s development. Whether it’s the harshness of rural life on the farm or the casual brutality with which Johnny engages in sex, the frame remains unflinchingly in close-up. Some elements of the story might unfold a little too neatly, although there have probably been enough attempts to make the gay life into one of tragedy (hello again, Brokeback Mountain). This ensures that Lee’s movie largely sidesteps melodrama and irritating contrivances. It’s a poised piece of filmmaking, and God’s Own Country is broodingly beautiful.
God’s Own Country does not have a UK release date yet.
Read our interview with the stars of God’s Own Countryhere.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.