God’s Own Country

In the first two minutes of Francis Lee's debut feature we’ve got sick, piss and spit. Five minutes later there’s a rough, dispassionate sex scene in a toilet. Throughout the film animal birth is a running motif, with all the viscera and goo on display. When the two heros first consummate their brooding desire, they’re on the exposed hills, beside a stone hut, muddied and goose-pimpled. There’s a swirl of noises and textures that mix farming with sex, human with animal, desire with disgust. Apart from this, God’s Own Country (2017) is an ordinary movie, a long way from the digressive stillness of, for example, Weekend (2011). But why shouldn’t queer cinema have formulaic, happy-ending love stories, full of redemption and reconciliation? Maybe we’ve had enough of representing misery. And, to the film’s credit, it doesn’t shy from some real parts of Britain: racist, homophobic, tribal.

The film relies heavily on the landscape Yorkshire is gothic, cold and beautiful as well as the lead performers. The lovers are self-possessed Romanian migrant Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) and self-lacerating farmer Johnny (Josh O'Connor). O'Connor is a particular revelation. Despite a rushed ‘maturing’ in the final act, which stretches plausibility and feels cynical, his performance is subtle and moving. He’s guarded, to the extent that smiles have to battle through crinkles of repression and fear. The couple’s second sex scene is an incredible display of overwhelmed desire, an attempt to reconcile tenderness and aggression.