Starring Josh O’Connor. Rating unavailable
Time was when you had to leave your rural home for city lights if you were even the slightest bit different and didn’t want to hide it. Set in a bleakly beautiful Yorkshire farmscape (hence the title), God’s Own Country isn’t particularly fixed on one calendar or another, but it’s definitely a statement of today.
The story itself, courtesy of actor turned writer-director Francis Lee, is sure to remind people of Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain”, a spare New Yorker short story later turned into a more elaborate movie by Ang Lee. This Lee’s film has a raw-boned immediacy and depends only on four thinly drawn characters to move the story forward.
Josh O’Connor (The Riot Club and Florence Foster Jenkins) manages to hold the screen as blank-faced Johnny Saxby, a gormless postadolescent yobbo who has given up any shot at university or the outside world since his hard-driving farmer father had a stroke. And can we just pause here to ponder how weird it is to see Ian Hart, who so perfectly embodied John Lennon in two fine ’90s movies, playing a bitter, taciturn old geezer in a wheelchair?
Johnny’s mum (Brit-TV veteran Gemma Jones) is made of even sterner stuff, and you can almost see why our pale-faced antihero escapes nightly to a rural pub, where he gets puke-faced and has it off with the odd willing lad in the grungy W.C. His rut, as it were, is interrupted when the parents buy a week’s worth of day labour from a handsome, introspective Romanian immigrant named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), who speaks good English and knows a lot more about sheep than Johnny does.
Naturally, the local Brexit types, including the Saxbys, treat Gheorghe with disdain. But an ATV trip to a far paddock for some repairs leads to an overnight stay. (How big is this farm, anyway?) And Johnny lets his guard down on several fronts. It’s easy to see why he’s drawn to the enigmatic stranger, a little harder to fathom what Gheorghe sees in him. Still, the acting is strong enough to keep up audience investment, and the movie’s finish offers the kind of self-assertion that makes it a little easier to get through 2017.