God’s Own Country review: Debut feature director Francis Lee has delivered one of the best films of the year – an outstanding tale of love and lambing on the Yorkshire moors.
God’s Own Country review by Paul Heath at the 2017 Transilvania International Film Festival.
Debut feature director Francis Lee helms this stunning northern England-set drama which is Brokeback Mountain by way of Emmerdale, a statement which does the film a massive injustice, as it is quite possibly one of the best films to come out of the UK this year.
We meet Josh O’Connor’s farmhand Johnny as he is bent over a toilet throwing up early one morning. We learn later he’s been on the booze with a heavy night down the local boozer a regular occurrence, as is his frequent anonymous sexual exploits with local men; be it a quickie in the pub toilet, or in a muddy cattle cart at the nearby auctions. Johnny uses his binge drinking and casual sexual encounters to break up the monotony and isolation living on the family estate deep in the Yorkshire Moors with his father and grandmother. His dad Martin (Ian Hart) has suffered a recent health issue, something that is clearly hindering the physical work on the farm. Johnny has taken on more as a result, but with it being lambing season – the film is set in early spring – Martin has arranged for a Romanian immigrant named Georghe (Alex Secareanu) to come and stay for a week or so to assist with the increased work load.
Johnny seemingly begrudges the arrival of Georghe, possibly looking at his presence as more of a hindrance than a help, and is dominant, controlling and completely xenophobic from their first meeting. Georghe quietly gets on with it initially, but the pair are ordered by Martin to head to the moors to camp out for a few days to carry out a variety of tasks. It is here where those comparisons to Ang Lee’s Oscar-winner start, with the two men engaging in a sexual relationship almost from the off. Those Brokeback Mountain similarities end there though as this that film was very much about two people who fell for one another, but were not allowed to be together – here, Johnny is very much in control of his future, his sexuality very much out in the open.
Lee’s film is a very intimate piece, both in its narrative and the way in which it has been brought to the screen. Both actors are magnificent, near faultless in fact, particularly Josh O’Connor as Johnny. He is a revelation, this a clear example of an actor very much on the up, a break-out role that is jaw-dropping in terms of its execution. He’s phenomenal to watch as his character slowly changes from an alpha male-type to a more sensitive, caring individual. Secareanu too lends near-perfect support as Georghe who very much goes the other way – from dismissive and quiet to more forceful and dominant and direct – but again very much showing oodles of humility at the same time. Ian Hart also shines at the patriarch, the actor looking much older than his 52 years. He comes into his own in the third act, his commanding performance as Martin absolutely absorbing to watch, and one who delivers perhaps one of the best moments with the delivery of just two words as his son aids him in the bath tub.
Undoubtedly this film’s biggest talking point is its director and writer. Francis Lee, formerly a film, television and theatre actor, has delivered a feature that is near flawless. It’s such a powerful, emotional, intimate, truly realistic and deep piece of work that deserves all the attention that it has been getting. Bold, engaging and an absolutely flooring in every way, God’s Own Country is truly one of the best British films of the year.
God’s Own Country review by Paul Heath, June 2017.
God’s Own Country was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Transilvania International Film Festival. It will be released in UK cinemas on September 1st, 2017.