God’s Own Country is a moving and somewhat haunting story about a young man facing the burden of family responsibilities on a remote farm in Yorkshire, England. I had heard great things about the movie, a winner of many awards, so I checked it out and decided to share my thoughts here in our first ever movie review.
Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) lives with his father and grandmother on their remote Yorkshire farm. It’s a hard life, made even harder by the fact that Johnny’s father, Martin (Ian Hart), has suffered a stroke and is now in poor health. The major responsibility for the farm now falls on Johnny and it is clear he is bitter and resentful. Most of the other people his age have gone off to university and he is isolated and alone. Johnny vents his frustration by bickering with his father and grandmother, having meaningless hookups, and drinking himself into oblivion.
When Martin hires a temporary worker to help out on the farm, Johnny is resentful. He may not like the job, but that doesn’t mean he wants help either. Johnny takes out his anger on Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), lashing out with insults or ignoring him altogether.
When Johnny and Gheorghe go to a remote pasture to help with lambing, the men are all alone for days. There the anger between them leads to a fight, which in turn becomes a sexual encounter. That moment breaks the hostility, and soon the men are working together happily and continuing their sexual relationship. The peace continues when they return to the farm, until Martin’s health takes another turn. Suddenly the full weight of the farm’s responsibility lands squarely on Johnny’s shoulders. In his panic, he acts out, and he might lose Gheorghe from his life for good.
God’s Own Country was a wonderful movie, moving and intense with moments of both pain and beauty. Writer/director Francis Lee does not shy away from the realities of life on the farm. We see the dirty and gritty side, the relentless work, and the cycle of life and death. We see calves die and lambs born, stalls mucked, and nights spent outside when it’s so cold you can see your breath. It is easy to feel Johnny’s sense of isolation as he works day in and out in this remote land, his peers having gone on to other things while he remains tied to the farm. It is clear that Johnny has reached the point where he can see nothing but the bitterness and the frustration, and none of the beauty and wonder anymore.
As the movie develops, Lee shows us that beauty and wonder. The men look out on the gorgeous landscape. Flowers bloom and new life is born. There is a lovely moment where a new lamb is unable to nurse and Gheorghe manages to trick a mother sheep into feeding it. That moment where the little lamb begins to successfully nurse is such a delight, and we can see the joy break on Johnny’s face as well. Gheorghe is not only gentle and sweet with the animals, but his happiness on the farm begins to transfer over to Johnny as well.
I really enjoyed the relationship between the men. There is almost a feral quality about Johnny as the movie begins, and Gheorghe slowly begins to reach him, both as a friend and as a lover. They often come together in rough and harsh ways, and there is a realism about their encounters that I appreciated. But we also see the emotional connection develop between them as well, seeing some of Johnny’s walls come down slowly. As the movie continues, there is almost a domesticity to their relationship that is very sweet. The sex between two men is explicitly portrayed, and I think that is an important facet to the story as we really see so much of their relationship dynamic conveyed through these encounters. O’Connor and Secareanu do a wonderful job showing the connection between Johnny and Gheorghe, and O’Connor in particular does an amazing job portraying Johnny’s vulnerable moments.
My only small issue here is that the accents were a bit tough to my American ears. I actually had a much easier time understanding Gheorghe’s accented Romanian, but Johnny and his family’s Yorkshire accents were so thick that I’ll admit I missed some of the conversational nuances at times. This is not a knock on the movie itself, as the authenticity of their accents is key to the film, I just note that I sometimes had trouble understanding them.
So I really loved this movie and found myself even more captivated after reflecting on it further. There is such a wonderful balance between the beauty and the bleakness here. Lee really captures the loneliness and the remote life, but then highlights the loveliness as well. I loved those moments where Johnny sees the small joys and the beauty around him. And I love the way that his relationship with Gheorghe helps him find the happiness his life was missing.