You’d be forgiven for thinking that windswept Yorkshire planes aren’t the most obvious setting for a steamy love story, but there’s nothing obvious about God’s Own Country.
A remarkably restrained debut from director Francis Lee, it centres on young farmer Johnny (Josh O’Connor), who toils alone on the family farm under the watch of his sickly father (Ian Hart) and stern grandmother (Gemma Jones). At night, he has meat, potatoes and a tinny for dinner, then drinks himself unconscious. There’s a shot of a caged magpie.
Within minutes, it’s clear this is a man suffocated by duty and desolation, and newcomer O’Connor etches an extraordinary portrait of an individual in emotional arrest. Seven minutes in, he’s rutting another guy in the back of a trailer. He doesn’t smile for nearly an hour, brooding and antagonising and pushing every button he can find.
“We?” he grunts when his rutting partner suggests a date. “No.” Recalling the novels of Harper Fox, particularly Scrap Metal, Lee’s film excels at exposing the cracks in life at this remote farmstead.
Even before the arrival of Alec Secareanu’s chiselled farm hand, Gheorghe – a quiet Romanian who strikes up a clumsy romance with Johnny – God’s Own Country rivets as a study of human frailty and family tension.
In a landmark year for LGBTQ+ rights, God’s Own Country shuns ‘gay movie’ cliches – there’s no ‘coming out’ melodrama here – as, in the harsh wilds of Yorkshire, Lee uncovers affecting tenderness in the unspoken and the understated.
This review originally appeared in Crack magazine.