God’s Own Country is the directorial debut of Yorkshire born actor Francis Lee where Johnny (Josh O’Connor) working on his family’s farm turns to binge-drinking and casual sex as a form of escapism. Things are turned on its head when Georghe (Alec Secareanu), a Romanian migrant arrives to help out on the farm and take stress away from Johnny’s ill father. Johnny quickly becomes involved in a lustful sexual relationship that turns his life and his farm around.
Set in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, God’s Own Country is a cinematic masterpiece with beautiful cinematography and a real raw and gritty atmospheric tone created through long and drawn-out scenes. The lack of dialogue throughout creates a sense of monotony that emphasises the simple yet bleak life Johnny finds himself living. Seeing old, school friends in the local pub, now studying in the big city shows Johnny’s solitude and sense of despair with the repetitive life he has fallen into on the farm. The vicious cycle that Johnny finds himself in with nightly alcohol-induced vomiting and loveless physical contact in pub toilets pushes across the sense of despair in Johnny’s life.
When Georghe arrives on the farm, the two spend nights repairing a dry stone wall in the gorgeous backdrop of the Pennines. The cold nights bring the two young men together as they share what felt to me as lust-filled sex. This is where the film seems to fall flat, beyond the beautiful cinematography of the north-east of England and strong acting performances from the leads lies a film based on a relationship that lacks depth and a true sense of realism.
God’s Own Country feels like it falls into a stereotypical view of a gay relationship, purely basing itself on the sexual frustrations of the two protagonists. The character development felt incredibly flat, Georghe is a Romanian migrant but that’s about it, there isn’t really any depth to the character and because of that their relationship feels cinematic. Johnny’s character goes from point A to Point A, never really evolving even if the director’s aim is for him to do so.
As the film draws to a close the initial interest created from the opening 20 minutes is long gone and a sense of bitter disappointment from the nothingness of the purely lustful relationship that the audience is supposed to feel attached to lingers. The character development or otherwise lack of means that this attempt at a realistic character study feels more like a self-indulgent homage to the director’s homeland.
Francis Lee has potential as a director, God’s Own Country is a beautifully shot piece of cinema that captures the beauty of Yorkshire. That being said, the relationship at the forefront feels like an after thought.
Lee attempts to create a raw and emotional portrayal of a gay relationship in a secluded part of the country that instead feels like a stereotypical and presumptuous portrayal of homosexuality.
God’s Own Country is worth seeing for its incredible setting but that isn’t enough to cover the cracks of a very fragile and shallow love story.
God’s Own Country is at the GFT from 8th September 2017