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Crude beauty of a Yorkshire shepherd's gay awakening

  • 31 August 2017


God's Own Country (MA). Director: Francis Lee. Starring: Josh O'Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart. 104 minutes

The UK's Yorkshire moors seem like an ideal setting for a crude yet beautiful film about two shepherds falling in love. What's even better is a director bringing to the film his own history of such a place, adding the depth of familiarity with both the land and those who live off it. Such is the case with one-time Yorkshire farm boy Francis Lee's directorial debut, God's Own Country.

Johnny (O'Connor), a troubled young man on the verge of full blown alcoholism, is faced with the difficult task of near single-handedly running his family's farm. His widower father Martin (Hart) is ill, and Johnny and his grandmother Gemma (Jones) must handle most of the work of running a farm and a household.

It's a monotonous daily grind, set against beautiful Northern England countryside — getting up early, fixing fences, delivering lambs and calves, battling cold, mud and disease, pausing to vomit up last night's booze. Johnny seeks out a mix of binge-drinking and casual sexual encounters to help the days go by. The loneliness of his situation is palpable, as is his growing emotional estrangement from Gemma and Martin, who watch on with a mix of concern and anger.

This holding pattern is disrupted when the handsome and pensive Romanian immigrant Gheorghe (Secareanu) arrives to help Johnny and his father run the farm. Johnny's customary impulse to regard his own same-sex attraction with disdain kicks into gear, as he is confronted by the quiet attractiveness of Gheorghe. This sets the scene for a rocky start.

It is perhaps analogous that Gheorghe approaches lambing and calving (a focal point of life on the farm) with patience and care, coaxing the cooperation of the mothers and bringing stillborn lambs to life with confidently executed care. Gheorghe's approach to the highly-repressed Johnny is the same; a respect for intense vulnerability, and a depth of love that is capable of bringing an ailing man (or lamb) back to life.

As lovely as that sounds, and it is, it does not make for a 'feel good' love story. The film is very graphic, in terms of sex scenes as well as the portrayal of animal birth and death; deeply visceral and at times quite dark — not recommended for the faint of heart.


"While Gemma and Martin grapple with the idea that Johnny is