Francis Lee’s debut feature God’s Own Country is a beautifully-crafted film with tough, sensual scenes delivered by the excellent lead actors: Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu. Johnny (O’Connor) works at his family’s farm but battles with dejection and anger with heavy drinking and casual sex; Gheorghe (Secareanu) is a Romanian migrant worker who is hired to help around the farm for a few weeks. Ian Hart and Gemma Jones round off the main cast as Johnny’s quick-tempered father and stoic grandmother – both are portrayed superbly.
The film is about the growing emotional and physical relationship between the two main characters in what can only be described as a Yorkshire love story. The way the story explores homosexual love is different from the likes of Moonlight and Carol. The unspoken emotions, hidden glances and secret intimate reunions still take place in the film but the relationship is not endangered by homophobia but rather by Johnny. The film is about Johnny dealing with being in love and being loved by another man for the first time; it is during these scenes that we are exposed to difficult but beautiful moments such as their first sexual encounter.
The film also subverts the trope of using the countryside as a mystifying, romantic and picturesque setting and opts to portray it as harsh, untameable and dangerous which mirrors Johnny and Gheorghe’s relationship. However, the director’s strong, personal connection to the fields of Yorkshire comes across strongly – some of the scenes were filmed on his father’s farm in the area. The clever cinematography and Lee’s passion for Yorkshire makes the unusual choice of location refreshing and alluring.
God’s Own Country is not a happy film or a sad one but perpetually wavers between the two. This does not mean the film condemns love or believes it to be doomed. It is an honest portrayal of the connection between two men and it is their relationship and the characters themselves that are the focus of the film and not love itself. It is a film that truly stands out because of its location and its truly terrific cast.