Two gay men on England’s fringes find love

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

God’s Own Country
Opens Friday 24

Studio 7

One could describe God’s Own Country as a slightly more graphic Brokeback Mountain but that would be selling it short. The low-budget, emotionally rich drama paints a dire picture of England’s countryside, with farmers dealing poorly with social change (immigration, LGBTQ openness and tolerance) and economic depression.

God’s Own Country’s main character is strangely unlikeable. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is a young man forced by his father’s disability to manage the family farm. Since he can’t deal with his emotions in healthy fashion, the farmer festers in resentment and only finds solace in alcohol consumption and anonymous sex. Johnny is also a closeted gay man, but the idea of a relationship —even so much as going for a pint with another fella — is unthinkable for him.

Things change with the arrival of Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a gentle Romanian immigrant looking for temporary labour. Much to his chagrin, Johnny — who is also a racist — becomes attracted to him, but since he has the emotional skills of a concussed teenager Gheorghe has to do all the heavy lifting.

This is an great feature debut for director Francis Lee. God’s Own Country goes for realism and succeeds (you’ll learn more about sheep farming than you ever wanted to know), and it doesn’t shy away from the fact Johnny and Gheorghe’s connection has more to do with opportunity than anything else, which would be an easy mistake to make. The film also has a knack for taking sudden — yet completely organic — turns, courtesy of farm-life, which has become fantastically unsustainable.

As hardened country folk, Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’ mom) and Ian Hart (Professor Quirrell in the Harry Potter series) deliver quiet and affecting turns of unexpected depth.

God’s Own Country shows us the value of doomed relationships. It’s all right as long as they lead to personal growth, a phenomenon beautifully depicted in Johnny’s arc.

If you like your romantic dramas with a side of social critique, look no further.