Johnny Saxby, Josh O’Connor (Ripper Street (TV), The Riot Club), the protagonist of Francis Lee’s feature directorial debut God’s Own Country, has a brutal, oppressive and bleak life.
He toils all day on his father and grandmother’s farm, working in isolation. At night, he goes to the pub and gets hammered usually before having emotionally bland sex with the next willing male participant to numb the pain.
He’s inarticulate, aggressive, and jaded by the monotony of farm life. Johnny’s life takes a U-turn when his father hires a Romanian immigrant to aid in tending to the farm. However, the story doesn’t play out like the natural arc of a romance would.
Gheorghe, Alec Secareanu (Cannibal, Matasari) is Johnny’s antithesis, but also the character that challenges him the most. Upon first interaction Johnny is rude but intrigued by Gheorghe’s calm demeanour and the gentleness with which he approaches farm work.
Their relationship undergoes a tumultuous but beautiful transition throughout the film, starting aggressive as both men constantly push each other’s limits and test the waters of their newfound relationship.
When Johnny’s father falls ill, Gheorghe no longer provides just physical intimacy for Johnny, but emotional as well thus bringing new depth to their bond. We see Johnny slowly and painfully let his guard down in front of Gheorghe, a complicated emotional arc that Josh O’Connor is able to organically bring to the screen.
Perhaps what’s most intriguing about Francis Lee’s film is the manner in which tenderness and emotion is expressed through the camera without words.
The relationship between Johnny and Gheorghe is mostly a physical one. Both actors carry themselves entirely through their facial expressions and their hesitant movements as they begin to develop physical intimacy with one another.
The tenderness of their relationship is starkly contrasted by a brutal and dirty life on the farm where one deals with the birth and death of animals on a regular basis.
However, as the relationship between these two men develop, we as the audience begin to see the English countryside in a new, beautiful light through the actors’ eyes.
What stands to be most impressive with Lee’s film is not only that it’s the director’s first, but that the storyline didn’t have a novel to lean back on like other LGBT independent films do. Instead, the film is partially based on Lee’s own life growing up on the farm.
This comes as no surprise as the film, like all independent film should aim to do, successfully portrays a niche experience in a compelling and moving way.
Extras on the DVD are deleted scenes and some extended scenes.