Film

Ex­quis­ite act­ing is a fea­ture of a strong di­rec­to­rial de­but that avoids sen­ti­men­tal­ity.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By James Robins GOD’S OWN COUN­TRY di­rected by Fran­cis Lee

God’s Own Coun­try, An In­con­ve­nient Se­quel: Truth to Power, The Wall, In Be­tween

Bring a brolly to see God’s Own Coun­try, for its first half is a del­uge of flu­ids. It opens with Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Con­nor), an adult son of farm­ing par­ents liv­ing on the iso­lated York­shire moors, retch­ing into a toi­let. Out in the cow sheds, he takes a leak and spits again. He trudges de­spon­dently through thick mud, pulls lambs from ewes and sinks too many warm pints to for­get it all.

Rank as this sounds, th­ese sen­sa­tions give the film, which is York­shire na­tive Fran­cis Lee’s di­rec­to­rial de­but, an un­de­ni­ably au­then­tic el­e­men­tal patina. Life here is bit­ter, and Johnny is bit­ter­ness per­son­i­fied.

He’s also gay. Dis­creetly, though.

His in­ti­mate con­nec­tions are force­ful cou­plings in a horse float, con­nec­tions given a cer­tain pi­quancy by the pre­ced­ing scene, in which he dons a plas­tic sleeve to in­spect the rear end of a cow. Some­one later calls him “a real pain in the arse … and not in a good way”.

All this has to soften some­how. There must be ame­lio­ra­tion. It comes in the

form of Ghe­o­rghe (Alec Secăre­anu), a hand­some Ro­ma­nian worker who ar­rives to take on some of Johnny’s work­load.

At first, there is no warmth be­tween them. But one night on the moors, de­sires are un­leashed – a sex scene con­fronting not for its ex­plic­it­ness but for its heavy, grap­pling in­ten­sity.

Johnny un­der­goes an emo­tional ed­u­ca­tion at Ghe­o­rghe’s hand, first learn­ing how to hold another man ten­derly, then to love the land to which he’s shack­led, then again to love his fa­ther who’s had a stroke – an ed­u­ca­tion made com­plete when Johnny’s sal­low, gaunt face melts slowly into a wry grin.

Every per­for­mance here is ex­quis­ite, and Lee’s di­rec­tion is med­i­ta­tive with­out be­com­ing lan­guid. Com­par­isons have in­evitably been made with Broke­back Moun­tain, and although they have in com­mon a theme of threat­ened mas­culin­ity, there isn’t a whis­per of ho­mo­pho­bia to be found in God’s Own Coun­try – or any sun­lit sop­pi­ness.

It’s a vastly su­pe­rior work, made all the more af­fect­ing by its rough edges and lack of sen­ti­men­tal­ity.

IN CIN­E­MAS NOW

Com­par­isons have in­evitably been made with Broke­back Moun­tain … but there isn’t a whis­per of ho­mo­pho­bia to be found.

An emo­tional ed­u­ca­tion: from left, Ghe­o­rghe (Alec Secăre­anu) and Johnny

(Josh O’Con­nor).

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