Since its critically acclaimed world premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January 2017, Francis Lee’s debut feature God’s Own Country has been highly anticipated across the UK. Finally landing in our cinemas this month, it has proved itself to be a popular and deserving independent hit. Johnny is tied to working tirelessly on his family farm where he resides with his Grandmother and desperately ill father. His only escape is in frequent and excessive drinking sessions at the village pub and emotionless sex with stranger. Johnny is isolated in almost every possible way – working alone, constantly under the scrutiny of his cold father and resentful of his peers who have escaped their small town existence and headed off to university. Johnny pushes everyone away with his confrontational manner; as abrasive as the harsh winds that are faced in the farm’s fields. When a Romanian farmhand arrives to assist with lambing season, Johnny feels threatened and instantly makes his racially-fuelled feelings about the new arrival clear. What follows is an awkward, intense encounter that quickly transitions into a tender, emotional and compassionate affair between the two men. Described by many as a Yorkshire adaptation of Brokeback Mountain, Francis Lee’s debut is an astounding piece of work and evidence that British independent cinema is alive and well. A glorious study and exploration of not just sexuality but cultural differences, masculinity, family and responsibility, God’s Own Country uses its geographical surroundings as effectively as Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights or Ken Loach’s Kes and also contains some equally compelling young, breakthrough performances.|
In the forefront is newcomer Josh O’Connor whose portrayal of ignorance and loneliness is convincingly volatile. One of the most impressive accomplishments of God’s Own Country is the exceptional depth of character we see in O’Connor and how the film can make us strongly dislike him and yet grow to care so deeply for him. The remarkable Gemma Jones gives a tender and controlled performance as a firm but fair grandmother and mother with a stern ‘keep calm and carry on’ ethos but a loving heart. Ian Hart is equally commendable as the final third of the family unit and gives a controlled but ferocious performance as Johnny’s father whose declining health is frustrating and damaging to the survival of the farm but also his fragile masculinity. The sex scenes within the movie are incredibly moving, particularly as we witness Johnny experiencing the spiritual aspects of sex along with the more tender physical aspects which he is evidently not familiar or comfortable with. Interwoven into the narrative is the daily farm duties themselves. The two men silently and sensitively oversee the new lambs entering safely into the world, including a wonderfully moving sequence in which the runt of the litter is cloaked in the fleece of a deceased lamb in order to allow its mother to accept it into the flock. Expertly edited by Chris Wyatt and inspired by Francis Lee’s own experiences on his father’s farm, you constantly feel in safe hands throughout all 104 minutes of God’s Own Country. The natural beauty of the county and its changing agricultural landscape is celebrated and unpicked in this, a bold and exciting first outing from a director I will be following closely.
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