God's Own Country Review
Set on an isolated Yorkshire farm, Johnny (Josh O'Connor) is experiencing a sort of quarter-life crisis. All his friends have gone off to college and he finds himself stuck caring for the cattle and sheep alone after his father suffers a stroke. In order to cope with his loneliness and isolation Johnny binge drinks and engages in aggressive passionless sex with other men. However, when Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) is hired by Johnny's father Martin (Ian Hart) and his Grandmother Deidre (Gemma Jones) to help out, Johnny slowly learns about his place in the world and how to be content within it.
Now, when I first saw the trailers for God's Own Country, I like many others, assumed that it would be an English version of Brokeback Mountain; after all, it deals in part with a blossoming relationship between two men on an isolated hillside amongst rugged countryside and some livestock. However, upon viewing, I found a quiet sleeper gem full of beauty and care that distinguished itself from the more famous and star-studded Hollywood film.
For one, the landscape feels more important to this film than it did in Brokeback - (last time I mention Ang Lee’s film). God's Own Country is in no way beholden to or under the shadow of the larger film. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards paints the Yorkshire countryside with the skill of an old master; at times dirty and real, cold, and barren, at others warm and welcoming and all times in between purely magical. This is a film that could not exist anywhere else as the countryside - like in the classic novel Wuthering Heights - reflects our characters' feelings toward it and mirrors their emotions.
Speaking of, the performances are quietly captivating. Josh O'Connor as Johnny is so subtle, and yet you can tell exactly how he is feeling, his anger, hurt and desperation for his situation are written in the quiet moments of regretful silence. He is a character that you think you are going to hate due to his treatment of his family and other people, but as the film goes on we learn more about his feelings and fears and by the end, we are ready to side with him almost unconditionally. Alec Secareanu is similarly stoic. However, while O'Connor barely contains his emotions under a thin layer of bitterness, Secareanu is tender, warmer and instantly likeable.
The relationship between Johnny and Gheorghe may be a surface attraction in a film which addresses a lot more. It draws heavily from the state of British agriculture, the nature of growing up on a farm and the responsibility or obligation to that farm. It deals with migrant workers and xenophobia and that awful feeling of being lost as a young adult. These things are the true problems faced in the film, Johnny and Gheorghe face no outward homophobia, only Johnny's self-loathing and the locals' treatment of Gheorghe as a Romanian which run the risk of really damaging the relationship. While evidently classed as a LGBT film, it throws up so much more than that.
The release itself is a solid one with high visual quality. The audio track similarly does the job well with three tracks to choose from: 2.0 Mono, 5.1 Surround and audio description for the hard of hearing. Each of these fails to produce any errors through the entire runtime and never distracts you from the gorgeous vistas and personal story. The extras on the disc are a little bare, with only deleted and extended scenes and a trailer to make the purchase worthwhile.
God’s Own Country needs to remain in the conversation for a little longer and this home release, as well as the recent BAFTA nominations, does that. This is a highly unique film that challenges preconceived notions of LGBT cinema and lends a deeply personal story to the experience of farm work that has never been so heart-breaking before. While the lack of extras could perhaps put people off, the film itself is enough to give those who missed God's Own Country in cinemas a highly recommended look.