God’s Own Country is a fine romance, wrapped in a compelling family drama, that feels like it under serves both elements a bit too much in the end.
Johnny is a farmer in Yorkshire, it’s his family farm but his father has had a stroke and he is left to do much of the work on his own. Johnny also happens to be a bit of a closeted homosexual and enjoys banging it out with cute boys he finds in town. When a young Romanian immigrant, Gheorghe, comes to stay at their place for a week, Johnny finds his ethnic prejudice fade into something more as he finds intimacy as he embraces who he is.
Well, writing all that out might have made me like the movie a bit less. You can imagine where all this is heading, but the rub that makes this film work is a couple of great turns by the cast and it’s unique setting. Up on the hills, overlooking the town, we are given a realistic look at what life on the farm is like for someone like Johnny or Gheorghe, and the beauty and sadness that comes along with taking care of the animals. This is what I found most compelling in the film, Gheorghe teaching Johnny not just to embrace who he is romantically, but to not be such a fuck up. This, paired with the drama around Johnny’s father and Nan, makes for a compelling setting, but it ultimately goes about where you would expect in the end. I like where the film goes, but I don’t know if it earned the romantic feels it was going for between Johnny and Gheorghe.
That said, Francis Lee’s film is often quite gorgeous, constantly finding the beauty through the grime that these two work through in their week or so working together. Lee find’s many beautiful shots of the English countryside, but it is his eye and love for the animals in his film that really pulled me in. More of that little lamb, please! Lee’s script isn’t as sharp as his direction, but I understand the aversion to get morose in such a blue color setting as it is. He does find a fine line to walk when it comes to that, with Gheorghe injecting much of the film’s life onto the screen, but the ending is just too conventional.
That said, Josh O’Connor as Johnny is quite good as the grumpy and guarded type, and I really felt all of that melt away as he and Gheorghe become closer together. O’Connor delivers a nuanced and subtle performance throughout, that keeps you rooting for Johnny. Gheorghe is played by Alec Secareanu, who is a bit too sweet and perfect for my taste. I don’t think that is necessarily Secareanu’s fault, I’d point to Lee’s script, but Secareanu really does shine in his work with the animals. Ian Hart might steal the show, though, as Johnny’s stroke ridden father, who sells us on all of the pathos of the later half of the film, even if it all comes a bit too easy.
God’s Own Country is a fine British romance, but it doesn’t feel wholly original or revelatory, outside it’s setting. That said, Lee has an eye for his hometown behind the camera, I just hope his next effort finds a bit more unique material.