God’s Own Country is part-coming of age, part-study of rural life in a modern world. Director Francis Lee never places an era: technology is used scarcely, politics remains undiscussed. For Johnny, the pivotal character, life continues in a repetitive pattern of excessive drinking, casual sex, and being as rude as possible to anyone who suggests alternatives to his behaviour. With grave deterioration in his father’s health, their family farm relies upon a compliant Johnny to keep it going.
Enter stage left Gheorghe, a Romanian farmer. The power imbalance between the Johnny and his new co-worker is established almost immediately. Gheorghe is relegated to a caravan outside the home, and is belittled through ongoing racial slurs towards him. Power is reclaimed – metaphorically and physically – during the first sex scene between the two characters. Sex is initially a physical act; an assertion of dominance. As the relationship develops, the role of sex also evolves. Johnny’s character is warmed by his relationship with Gheorghe, and in turn his attitude towards farm life also softens. It’s hard to imagine that the first Johnny we meet would have otherwise been capable to handle the family and personal tragedies that occur.
One – and perhaps the most important – distinction, for me, is that this film is not solely an ‘LGBT film’. Yes, a lot of the film revolves around Johnny and Gheorghe’s relationship, but it also serves to carry forward more prevalent themes. A scene in which Johnny’s mother, Deidre, cries as she finds a used condom holds potential to divert off course – towards yet another coming-out narrative – but Lee instead maintains ambiguity. We know that Deidre is aware of her son’s sexuality, yet wonder if her upset is less to do with homophobia, but rather concerns for the family’s future – a future which only exists if the farm continues to do so.
The Times described God’s Own Country as ‘a Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain’. Despite similar synopses, God’s Own Country stands apart in its themes – as a film of growth vs decay, urban vs rural, traditional vs progressive. A tale of vast landscapes paired with intricate stories.
[Amy Shimmin – @amylfc]