Francis Lee – Television director (Heartbeat, Casualty)
Josh O’Connor – (Florence Foster Jenkins)
Alec Secareanu – (The Saint)

The picturesque rolling green hills and not-so-picturesque muddy paddocks of Yorkshire are the backdrop for writer-director Francis Lee’s (Heartbeat, Casualty) often brutal, but ultimately tender, story of love between an emotionally barren sheep farmer and a seasonal worker who signs on during lambing season.

While writer/director Lee is primarily a television director, as a first feature, ‘Gods Own Country’ delivers even pacing, well-developed characters, and a visceral understanding of the Yorkshire countryside, and its people.

Lee honours the struggle for identity felt by young men growing up on isolated farms. Yet he also respects the generations of work that have gone into building those farms, and the unspoken obligation to continue that tradition. Josh O’Connor (The Durrells in Corfu) does a masterful job of turning John Saxby, a non-communicative sheep farmer’s son into someone we can root for.

Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in God’s Own Country (2017)

Though he teeters perilously on the edge of just being a jerk, John’s struggle to scrape off the mud of the farm and relate to his friends, many of whom have left for university, is credible and palpable. And the heavy drinking and aggressive sex with men in the back of the sheep trailer are clearly symptomatic of someone grasping for a lifeline, any lifeline.

John’s salvation comes in the form of Gheorghe, a Romanian farmhand played with subtlety and nuance by Alec Secareanu (The Saint). Although Gheorghe (Georgie) is the only person to answer the Saxby family’s advert for seasonal help, John treats him with characteristic disdain, making gypsy quips, and all but locking him in the barn. But, through patience, hard work, and understanding, Gheorghe softens John’s edges, and ultimately, one night in a windswept sheep pen, the two men find each other.

Given that it’s Yorkshire, John’s parents are quite traditional, and his father is clearly dying slowly, John and Gheorghe do their best to keep their love a secret. Of course, John struggles with whether he deserves love, or should resign himself to aggressive trysts in bathroom stall, and predictably pushes Gheorghe away. But, in the end, John and Gheorghe find a way forward for both the farm and their relationship.

In addition to the strong acting and directing, ‘God’s Own Country’ is likewise a feast for the eyes. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards (Songs My Brothers Taught Me) brings a keen visual sense to bear on his subject. Jumping from cool greys and greens out on the farm to soft, warm tones in town, and flat, muted hues in the farmhouse, Richards delivers a colour palette that is both beautiful to look at, and deftly reflects the struggles of the characters.

Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in God’s Own Country (2017)

God’s Own Country’ does an excellent job of balancing the need to honour the traditional with a young person’s desire to be true to themselves, and casts a skilled cinematic eye on what is essentially a tough, gritty and often difficult way of life.

‘God’s Own Country’ premiered in Ireland in July as part of the 2017 Galway Film Fleadh, and will be screening in Dublin on Monday the 7th of August at 8 pm on the closing night of the of the 2017 GAZE LGBT film Festival.

Review by Glenn Kaufmann, one of the founders of No-Budget, a Dublin-based show for independent filmmakers.

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