We here at TG2 Studios have no qualms with reviewing movies for the LGBTQ audience. We’ve reviewed movies in the horror genre, first with Alena and the horrors of bullying, and then even more recently with movies like Rift and the thriller B&B. We’ve even reviewed dramatic films, but in the medium of short-film subject with Morning After. Now for the first time we have a feature length dramatic LGBTQ film, and what we see is an almost visceral look at people, family, and relationships, all in God’s Own Country.
Set in the countryside near a village in northern England, we are introduced to a young man named Johnny Saxby, played by Josh O’Connor (Florence Foster Jenkins; The Durrells in Corfu) who basically hates his life. He works on the family farm with his father played by Ian Hart (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Dirt) and his grandmother played by Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’s Baby) and raise sheep. He regularly takes the adult sheep to be auctioned off and that money is used to help sustain the farm. However, Josh is miserable. He’s so unhappy that he borders on self-destructive behavior by going in to the local pub almost every night, get totally drunk and then have casual sex with any guy he can get his hands on. This is only fueled by the terrible hangovers he has and the regular berating he receives from his father and grandmother for his irresponsible behavior, not to mention never properly coming to terms with his own sexuality. However, because of the father’s poor health (a stroke victim) it becomes necessary to hire temporary help, and it arrives in the form of a Romanian immigrant worker named Gheorghe Ionescu, played both tenderly, but with great strength by Alec Secareanu (Minte-mã frumos in Centrul Vechi). Given Gheorghe’s background he comes with great experience in helping to tend to the sheep, as well as tend to the lambs when they are born. However, the help he brings goes beyond just working with the sheep and lambs. Through the knowledge that he imparts to Johnny, we see our angry young man start to change. He goes from being a bitter man with no love for anyone or anything about him, to someone who truly starts to care about how his farm manages. After his father suffers a second stroke, Johnny steps up and assumes a more responsible role in the managing of the farm. Even after Gheorghe leaves to go back to his regular job, Johnny becomes the adult that his father and grandmother always hoped he would become.
To say anymore about this would border on spoilers, because as with life, while knowing the destination is nice, it’s Johnny’s journey that is fascinating with this film. Secareanu plays a rather stoic part, and yet is able to show just the right amount of sensitivity when needed, as well as a steadfastness to his character. Compare that to O’Connor who does a magnificent job at giving the viewer a good look at a young man who is truly unlikable. In fact he’s downright unpleasant. He’s such an ugly individual that I found myself wondering how I could ever learn to like him, especially if he’s to become a sympathetic character. However O’Connor pulls off the most subtle transformation because before I knew it I found myself really pulling for young Johnny, especially as he finally starts to find inner peace as he comes to terms with his sexuality. Both Gemma Jones and Ian Hart do wonderful jobs in the roles they play as parent and grandparent, but to see their crusty exteriors thaw as Johnny matures is a truly beautiful thing, especially when the matter of Johnny’s sexuality and his happiness come in to play.
From the beginning this film was being compared to Brokeback Mountain, which can be rather terrifying given that movie’s significance to gay cinema. And yet, while there are some similarities between the two, God’s Own Country is clearly its own film. The culture of that part of today’s England is more than a backdrop. It helps to inform and shape the people who live there, making this a very English film, and if there is a downside it would be that. The accent at times was difficult to get through, especially at the start of the film, but by the time we got to the end it did become easier to make sense of the dialogue and what each character was saying. The other thing that sets this apart is that the ending is a positive one, and yet it never became sugar-coated, and it never felt false or forced. What it did feel was emotionally satisfying and possibly even hopeful. Writer/Director Francis Lee gives us a film that shows you don’t have to live in the big city to be LGBTQ, and that people from that community can be found pretty much anywhere. However, most importantly, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. You can live in a remote part of any part of the world, and even if you are LGBTQ it is still possible to find love and happiness, even in God’s Own Country.
I give this film 5 out of 5 Stars.
God’s Own Country is being distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, will be released in New York City at the IFC Center on 10/25, followed by Los Angeles at AMC Theaters on 10/27, and then select theaters in November.
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