Max Redmond Smith on Francis Lee’s ‘God’s Own Country’ (2017)
AS ESCAPE FROM WHAT HE SEES as the monotonous and tedious work of his family farm, a young John Saxby (Josh O’Connor) spends the little downtime he has drowning his liver and having casual sex, seemingly, with anyone who happens to be interested. In the break taking Springtime Yorkshire countryside, John spends his time upchucking his pints from the night before. To compliment this image, the farm is descending into disarray, with his Father’s (Ian Hart) health becoming increasingly worse, and his Nan, Dierdre (Gemma Jones), only capable of menial housework. To help with lambing season, Romanian migrant worker, Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu) comes to work on the farm with John.
John is cold and divorced from affection. His sexual encounter with another farm-boy in a cattle truck is loveless. He is not enthused by the presence of Gheorghe on the farm. He is indifferent to his father’s health, and cares little for the family farm. What Gheorghe offers John is intimacy, the opportunity to remedy his loneliness.
God’s Own Country does not directly concern itself with issues of queer identity, inasmuch as it is not a coming-out story. Lee offers a refreshing perspective on queer romance, directing what is one of the best romances in recent years, full stop. It steeps itself into depictions of realistic sex and intimacy; bodies in the throes of passion becoming one, and writhing together in a battle between dominance and submission.
At large, God’s Own Country is an exploration of tactile relations, with many shots of John and Gheorghe caressing sheep’s wool, burping lambs, and clutching hay, reducing the distance between spectator and character. This tactile sensibility beautifully reinstates the theme of intimacy, and immerses the spectator into the carnal world that Lee has created.
The dialogue thin script, coupled with the brisk Yorkshire spring – think visible breath and a stark colour palette – establishes a cold and dislocated atmosphere. This is the atmosphere John has secluded himself within. The cinematography is tight (Joshua James Richards), and with scenes often shot in the evening or at night, the desire for warmth and light in this icy atmosphere only compounds John’s human desire to connect with Gheorghe and the audiences wish to see that connection occur. The result is a totally enthralling and arousing cinematic experience.
God’s Own Country is a touching portrait of juvenile anger and isolation. Lee has created a romance that has transcended the expected trappings of a queer romance. Lee unapologetically explores carnal desire as a given, and harmoniously balances it with intimacy, affection and respect. The love between John and Gheorghe is neither fetishised nor superficial.