With the wind howling around the house in full throes of a storm the other night I fancied watching something which would match the bleakness going on outside. I have seen this film before and it left a great impression. I bought it on DVD just before Christmas but with a cat ensconced on my lap it was easier to watch it on Netflix. It is also on the BFI Player where I viewed it the first time and where it was one of the most streamed films of 2018.
Set during an early springtime lambing season in a farm on the Yorkshire Moors, main character John Saxby (an outstanding Josh O’Connor most recently seen as Marius in the BBC adaptation of “Les Miserables”) is getting by through getting drunk each night and spending the day hung over and uncommunicative towards grandmother played by Gemma Jones and his ailing father, played by Ian Hart, who himself is reluctant to give up the running of the farm and vents this frustration onto his son. A young Romanian is brought in to help out with the lambing and sparks ignite between him and John.
Josh O’Connor and Alex Secareanu
This is a love story but one carried out in the bleak harshness of the environment. The two camp out on the Fells to be near to the sheep in a section reminiscent of “Brokeback Mountain” but this is a more stronger, more convincing film. It also feels more grounded in reality, certainly for British audiences, than a film that tended to overshadow it in 2017, “Call Me By Your Name“. The reason this works so well is largely through the dynamics between the two men, John, barely able to express himself or feelings other than lust and anger yet crippled by loneliness and Gheorghe thrust into this brittle set-up and accepting of everything because it is better than he had experienced at home. You can certainly appreciate the appeal of the migrant worker played by Alec Secareanu and the hope that he brings with him. It’s understandable how he can enrich the lot of those around him.
It’s pretty much a four-hander and the performances are all excellent. As John’s father’s health deteriorates Ian Hart’s performance becomes almost painful to watch and if asked to choose a career best performance from the ex-Duchess of Duke Street Gemma Jones between this and her excellent work on BBC TV’s “Spooks” I’d have to opt for the sublime, understated portrayal here.
Co-stars Ian Hart and Gemma Jones
True, this film might not be for everyone. Some of the everyday scenes of life on the farm are brutal and challenging and there’s a couple of steamy sex scenes which may shock but are well within the context of the piece as shown by its 15 Rating (if they felt in anyway gratuitous I’m sure the rating would have been upped to 18). It’s moving, satisfying and believably scripted. It was written and directed by Francis Lee, whose sheer belief in his debut film is evident in every shot. However, it is the performances that will stay with me, which definitely makes this a five star film for me.
The stars with writer/director Francis Lee
God’s Own Country won the world crime directing award at the American Sundance Festival and garned a host of nominations worldwide. Although Josh O’ Connor was singled out most often for acting awards, each of the four performances were up for awards. In 2018 it was nominated for 7 Baftas of which it won Best British Independent Film with Josh O’Connor beating fellow nominee Alex Secareanu as Best Actor. It also picked up gongs at the British Independent Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, Edinburgh Festival, Empire Awards, Evening Standard Awards (where it won Best Film and Best Supporting Actress for Gemma Jones) amongst others including awards which highlighted the film’s LGBT+ issues.
Critical reaction to the film
God’s Own Country was released in 2017 and is currently available on DVD. It is also available on Netflix as part of the subscription and can be rented on the BFI player