Francis Lee’s first feature God’s Own Country isn’t something I’d expect to open a film festival, but already it’s opened two: the 71st Edinburgh International Film Festival and the 35th Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival. I caught it at the latter.
God’s Own Country is a slow burner about a romance between a frustrated young farmer and a migrant Romanian worker. It doesn’t start out like a typical love story, it doesn’t develop like one, and it certainly doesn’t end like one. Kudos to Lee for that. In the end, it succeeds on multiple levels.
Set in rural Yorkshire, Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) is the isolated 20-something son of a middle-aged sheep farmer (Ian Hart) whose days are numbered. While his father is dying, Johnny plugs away caring for calves and sheep, obviously resenting every minute of it. Something is amiss, something that has nothing to do with the farm.
Why are you so weird, boy? Johnny are you queer, boy? Turns out, yes: we learn this early on in the film at a cattle market, where Johnny picks up a trick (John McCrea) and fucks him in the back of a trailer. This small scene tells us all we need to know about where Johnny is with his sexuality through his terse response at the end of this tryst: his trick invites him for a pint, which Johnny coldly, emphatically, and violently declines.
Enter Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a hot Romanian farmhand who shows up just in time for “lambing,” or birthing lambs. He’s not a talker, but his eyes and his hands say everything. Johnny is intrigued. So are we in the audience.
Deliberately paced, God’s Own Country is a big statement composed of small, seemingly inconsequential moments. Each one is anything but. Like a horror movie, a few scenes literally make me call out to Johnny to ask him, “What are you doing?” Comparisons to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain are inevitable, but this is not the same story. First of all, there’s no “I can’t quit you” moment. Second, I like to think the ending is much happier even if it leaves a lot to the imagination. I can’t wait to see what Lee does next.
With Gemma Jones, Harry Lister Smith, Melanie Kilburn, Liam Thomas , Patsy Ferran, Sarah White, Alexander Suvandjiev, Stefan Dermendjiev
Production: Inflammable Films, Magic Bear Productions, Shudder Films
Distribution: Picturehouse Entertainment (UK), Orion Pictures (USA), Samuel Goldwyn Films (USA)
Screening introduced and followed by a live Q and A with director Francis Lee and actor Alec Secareanu
(Orpheum Theatre) B+
Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival