VIFF Review: ‘God’s Own Country’ is quietly great

Posted by Matthew on October 11, 2017
Movies, Reviews

People are going to compare God’s Own Country to Brokeback Mountain. It’s inevitable because they cover much of the same ground: two men spending time away from the world and looking after a herd of sheep form a relationship. That isn’t completely unfair because the basics are remarkably similar but also because they’re both great movies.

As the story opens Johnny is caught in a cycle of self loathing. His father suffered a stroke and now it’s to him to run the family farm. His friends have all left for university and he spends his days working himself to the bone during the day and drinking himself sick at night. When he does manage to make a connection with another man it ends in a rough, one time and a want to never see the man again.

After waking up after one of these long nights to find a calf has died in breach birth Johnny’s father tells him they are going to hire some help for the lambing season. Gheorghe, a Romanian immigrant, is hired. What follows is week discovery for Johnny as through the course of the work the two men slowly form a bond.

Both of the lead actors, Josh O’Connor as Johnny and Alec Secareanu as Gheorghe, are great. There’s precious little dialogue so everything you learn about each man is from body language and action. O’Connor’s arc in particular from angry fuck up to man willing to change is understated and powerful; the Johnny at the start of the movie is almost unrecognizable from the Johnny at the end and that’s almost entirely posture and emotion. Secareanu too as a man with an unspoken but painful past dealing with his attraction to a man who effectively doesn’t want to relate to him at all. Gheorgie doesn’t change through the movie like Johnny does, but his small gestures of kindness and tenderness have a real warmth.

Veteran Character actors Ian Hart and Gemma Jones also have some great screen time as Johnny’s father and grandmother, respectively.

This is the d├ębut from actor turned writer & director Francis Lee and if this film is any indication he’ll be someone to watch in the future. God’s Own Country has already netted him a directorial award at Sundance and that seems like the beginning of a great career behind the camera.

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