God’s Own Coun­try

GOD’S OWN COUN­TRY, drama, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

It can come as no sur­prise to any­one who loves movies that tastes dif­fer wildly, and one per­son’s gem is an­other’s lump of coal. That prin­ci­ple holds true in all the arts, and in most of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. So you may or may not like Fran­cis Lee’s prize-win­ning de­but film,

God’s Own Coun­try, a gay love story set in the wild heaths of the north of Eng­land. It owes a clear debt to Ang Lee’s Broke­back Moun­tain (the di­rec­tors even share a last name), but its lyri­cism is of a de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent hue.

Lee lets us know what we’re in for with his open­ing shot, which finds a man on all fours vom­it­ing into a toi­let. He’s Johnny Saxby ( Josh O’Connor), a young, lonely farmer in the bleak, hard­scrab­ble land­scape of York­shire. In short or­der he will go out to the barn, don a rub­ber glove, and in­sert his arm up the hindquar­ters of a cow, and then head to the lo­cal pub for a few pints and some rough back­seat sex with an anony­mous pickup.

The fam­ily farm is Johnny’s life, and his prison. He’s the only able­bod­ied hand on the place, where he lives with his grand­mother Deirdre (Gemma Jones) and his stroke-shat­tered fa­ther Martin (Ian Hart). He per­forms his du­ties grudg­ingly, and not al­ways re­spon­si­bly.

Things change, as they so of­ten do, with the ar­rival of a dark, hand­some stranger. Ghe­o­rghe (Alec Se­care­anu), a Ro­ma­nian itin­er­ant worker, signs on as help for the lamb­ing sea­son. At first things are prickly be­tween the two young men — Johnny refers to the new­comer as a Gypsy, and earns a sharp re­buke — but it soon be­comes clear that Ghe­o­rghe knows his way around sheep, and un­der his ca­pa­ble, car­ing hands we see a cou­ple of re­mark­able scenes of birthing and its aftermath.

What is com­ing with the in­evitabil­ity of winds across the moor is a sex­ual en­counter be­tween the two sheep­herders. Like the lovers in Broke­back Moun­tain, their break­through comes when they camp out in the far pas­tures to tend to the ewes. Their sex­ual re­la­tion­ship starts rough and muddy, turns ten­der and brood­ing, and then gets com­pli­cated. A lot of what this story is about is the power of love to ef­fect change, and the change in Johnny is pro­found.

The movie grad­u­ally takes on an un­ex­pected beauty, with cin­e­matog­ra­pher Joshua James Richards’ cam­era dis­cov­er­ing a Wuther­ing Heights ro­man­ti­cism in the raw ter­rain. Like the prover­bial flower push­ing up through pave­ment, Lee finds bud­ding ten­der­ness in the most un­likely of places. — Jonathan Richards

Northern ex­po­sure: Josh O’Connor and Alec Se­care­anu

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