God’s Own Country is an extraordinarily accomplished debit from writer/director Francis Lee. Heralded by some critics as ‘Brokeback Yorkshire,’ it tells the story of a young farmer, Johnny (Josh O’ Connor) who’s reeling from the weight of expectation heaped upon him. His father, Martin (Ian Hart) has had a stroke, so all the heavy work falls to Johnny, but Martin still decides exactly how the farm is run, and doesn’t appreciate how unhappy his son is. The two men, along with Martin’s mother, Deidre (Gemma Jones) have an isolated existence, albeit in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, and Johnny relies on heavy drinking and occasional joyless sexual encounters to get him through the days. He’s inarticulate almost to the point of silence: his grunts and mutterings are not much clearer than the noises made by his beloved animals. He’s definitely not ‘out,’ despite the regularity of his gay encounters. But who would he come out to? His father and grandmother have no idea of who he is or what he wants; he barely seems to know himself.
When Romanian farmhand Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) is taken on to help with the lambing, Johnny is at first resistant to the newcomer, wary of an interloper, unwilling to be exposed. But the two young men discover a mutual respect, realising they share a lot of the same skills and values, and their tenuous friendship soon takes a sexual turn. And then they fall in love.
Make no mistake, this is a bleak and brutal film, that doesn’t shy away from the realities of farming – nor of sex. We are presented with bodies in many forms: a slick newborn lamb is slapped into breath; a dead calf is kicked savagely away from its lowing mother; the grunting, heaving urgency of two men who want to fuck is contrasted with the devastating helplessness of a disabled man who cannot bath himself.
There is real misery here, and desperation, but there’s hope too, and, ultimately, love. It’s an astonishing first feature and an absolute joy to watch.