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

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.

VIFF 2017

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 manages to connect with another man, it ends in a rough, single encounter 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 breech 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 the two men slowly form a bond through the course of the work.

Both of the lead actors, Josh O’Connor as Johnny and Alec Secareanu as Gheorghe, are great. There’s little dialogue, so everything you learn about each man comes from body language and action. O’Connor’s arc, particularly 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 as 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 début 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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