Crushed between manual labour, a crippling father and a mother wizened to the bone, young farmer John Saxby loses himself in nightly binges and casual gay sex. Hard, fast and without connection, John’s life is a cocktail of morose self-pity and guilt-ridden duties. A hardened shell of contempt for anyone who orbits his featureless part of Yorkshire, he has no time for anybody. That is, until fate comes one day in the outline of Gheorghe, a Romanian farm hand drafted in on a week’s contract.
Framed in the same earnest, realism as directors Clio Barnard and Sylvia Parker’s break-though hit ’The Selfish Giant’, ’God’s Own Country’ is a romantic drama that also focuses on small lives trying to just get by. The unremitting brutality of farming has already claimed John’s father with a stoke and now the cold, wet, moss covered farm threatens to crush John too in this portrait of lives lived in silent extremis.
Unfairly compared to ‘Broke Back Mountain’ by the broad strokes of its plot, ‘God’s Own Country’ is a far subtler, more affecting affair. With a smaller cast, including the quality talents of Ian Hart as John’s father and Gemma Jones’s peerless portrayal of a mother emotionally limping from one day to another, newcomers Josh O’Connor (John) and Alec Secareau (Gheorghe) are amongst acting royalty. Not that you would know it though. Each actor’s performance here is sublime and feeds off the hollowness of their characters’ lives with brittle thanks each begrudgingly concede. Victims of the land as much as they are of each other, the characters of ‘God’s Own Country’ are invisibly drowning in duty as well as self loathing, and this is where any comparison to ‘Broke Back Mountain’ is baseless. This is a movie about true hardship in an unforgiving yet majestical landscape that will either shape you or crush you from the inside out.
Evenly paced and devoid of any unnecessary score, ‘God’s Own Country’ is a film where the acting really talks and its abstract frames say so much more than any extraneous dialogue ever could. An emerald gem covered in dourness and longing, ‘God’s Own Country’ is the movie Ang Lee should have made and the one Ken Loach probably would. Fortunately you don’t have to wait, as it’s already here.