Wayback Wednesday: God’s Own Country (2017)

A breathtaking romance filled with passion, growth, and sheep. So many sheep.

In my review for The High Note (2020), which you can check out here, I mentioned a few careers I could see myself having if I weren’t a writer. Seriously you guys, in another life I totally would have been a brain surgeon or a hairdresser. Y’know, something with tools where you get to fix people. After watching God’s Own Country (2017), I can safely say what kind of job I would NEVER want to have: Farmer. Early mornings, cleaning stables, pulling animals out of other animals…it’s not exactly the life I’m cut out for. However, if every farmer were guaranteed a romance as passionate and life-changing as the one in this incredible movie, I’d strongly  reconsider. Holy Hell was this movie remarkable.

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 9.38.52 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Picturehouse Entertainment

Written and directed by Francis Lee, God’s Own Country follows Johnny Saxby, a young gay sheep farmer in Yorkshire, England. When Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker comes to the farm, the two begin an intimate relationship that changes both their lives.

Let me just say this about farming and why I could never do it: there are far too many instances where you have to put your hands inside an animal. For a multitude of reasons. Yeah, “Charlotte’s Web” left out that little tidbit about farming. That’s the brilliance of God’s Own Country though. It captures every harsh reality of farm life from the hard labour, to the solitary setting, to the misery of anyone actually working there.

It’s no secret that Lee based much of the movie on his own life, something any viewer could tell from the movie’s first few minutes. It’s clear Lee truly LIVED each of these experiences. As he goes about a typical morning, Johnny’s world is fleshed out in great detail, and you really get a sense of what it feels like to live a day in his shoes. Lee captures the monotony and bleakness of Johnny’s everyday life and how desperate he is for change. All in under 10 minutes with practically no dialogue! Through nothing but masterful direction and acting, the story and its characters are established swiftly and effectively. All in under 10 minutes! It’s the most talented of writers who can convey an entire story through nothing but sound and image, and Lee is one of them.

What makes Lee’s writing so exceptional, besides his use of showing over telling, is how simple it is. The dialogue, though sparse, flows effortlessly, each conversation reminiscent of one you’ve had with your own loved ones. Throughout the entire movie, I never once felt like I was watching actors on a screen. Instead, I felt transported into the lives of these characters, a bystander watching everyday people live their lives the way real people do. That’s what makes God’s Own Country such a breathtaking movie to watch: Its simplicity.

Anyone can write a sci-fi action adventure or a slasher movie and have it be entertaining. But to write a timeless story about the beauty of first love between two very ordinary people and keep viewers on the edge of their seats…that’s phenomenal. Movies can be small, restrained and subtle, and still be amazing pieces of film. In fact, they’re often the most impactful or moving. Initially, God’s Own Country is one of those movies that you think you won’t like because it’s too serious. But then you watch it and you’re like, “Whoa. Blockbusters and comedies are great, but THIS is what spectacular filmmaking is.” I know I did.

There’s so much to be in awe of with God’s Own Country, but by far the most awesome is the relationship between Johnny and Gheorghe. Once again, though it’s a simple love story, it’s so incredible thanks to the flawless writing, direction and performances. Josh O’Connor and Alec Secăreanu, as Johnny and Gheorghe respectively, are pure magic together. They don’t just have chemistry together, they have FIRE. ELECTRICITY. And any other elements that can be used to describe an intense relationship. When Gheorghe tackles Johnny to the ground and their faces are close together and they share a moment, I literally went, “oh, fuck. I felt that spark through the screen.” In everything from the way Gheorghe holds Johnny’s hand, or the way Johnny stares in Gheorghe’s eyes, you can feel the passion and the love between them and it’s intoxicating to watch. Not only that, it’s intriguing. I couldn’t wait to see where their relationship would go.

Again, I have to applaud Lee’s writing. With Johnny, he creates a protagonist whose life is bleak and lonely without any hope that it could improve. Johnny’s walls are always up and he’s detached emotionally, unable to even open himself up to a kiss. O’Connor plays Johnny’s hesitation perfectly. It’s an emotional roller coaster watching Johnny’s journey, and it’s phenomenal watching O’Connor grow from isolated to lovestruck. Of course, who wouldn’t be lovestruck with Gheorghe? Secăreanu is a dream. Emotionally and physically, he’s so soft and tender with Johnny, wanting nothing else but to get to his heart. I mean, as soon as he made Johnny a sweet, modest dinner, I DIED. Look, if your man isn’t as considerate as Gheorghe, you need to re-evaluate your taste in men.

God’s Own Country is a movie that must by seen. By everyone. Epically queer people. It’s not often that a movie portrays a queer romance without tragedy or death, so to see this beautiful piece of art is a welcome breathe of fresh air. Y’know who else needs to see this movie? Any aspiring filmmaker. Lee is such a fantastic filmmaker, I swear to God, I could TASTE the food on the screen. Or feel the wool of the sheep. That’s how powerful he is at using imagery and cinematography. You really use every one of your senses when watching God’s Own Country, something you can’t say about many movies.

Watching God’s Own Country was so special and such a WOW experience, that I almost don’t want to taint it with a second viewing. Part of me wants to hold onto this lightning-in-a-bottle moment of watching a perfect movie. Oh, who am I kidding…I’m totally going to watch it again! And I recommend you watch it plenty of times as well. Just make sure you turn on the subtitles when you do. The English accents are so thick and indecipherable, I swear, it’s like listening to someone clear their throat for two hours.

Have you seen God’s Own Country? What are your favourite LGBT+ movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

 

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