Francis Lee’s naturalistic drama God’s Own Country is one of the more assured debut features of the year. This is a film filled with unspoken sentimentality that quietly touches an emotional nerve thanks to its authentic performances, evocative cinematography and a simmering, intelligently crafted narrative.
Young farmer Johnny (Josh O’Connor) numbs his boredom and repression with binge-drinking and casual sex, until he begins a passionate relationship with Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a Romanian migrant worker who helps at the family farm.
Set in rural Yorkshire, cinematographer Joshua James Richards casts an unsettled spell over the proceedings thanks to his naturalistic shooting of these evocative farm landscapes. With an unconventional stark beauty that parallels the simmering, ever-building relationship between Gheorghe and Johnny, God’s Own Country packs a crisp, visceral aesthetic punch. This setting proves the perfect location for this tale of brooding longing and quiet repression.
Writer-director Francis Lee captures an unspoken longing in Johnny, unfulfilled by his casual encounters, binging, and unhappy with his work. Yet we see a touching emotional growth in our protagonist when his simmering relationship with new colleague Gheorghe blossoms. From their first, anger-filled passionate sexual encounter to the tenderness that develops with a romantic relationship, we are sucked into Johnny and Gheorghe’s quiet, under-the-radar relationship – one that transcends the initial lust which sparked it.
Lee’s screenplay is not driven by garish sentimental monologue, but a raw, natural lingering where we observe the casual intimate moments between the pair – even when not driven by sex, looks between them and shared moments on the farm, craft an authentic and touching relationship between Johnny and Gheorghe. Lee’s tale touches upon other relevant issues like small town life, prejudices, and closeted sexuality as a means to further invest us in Johnny and Gheorghe’s story.
Praise should be delivered to O’Connor and Secareanu who are sublime in channelling the romantic nuances between the pair. These rich and authentic performances capture these themes of repression, unspoken love and unvoiced fears that help fully invest us in God’s Own Country from its initial moments. O’Connor’s quiet Johnny is not a role heavy on dialogue, yet the young actor performs with a heavyweight might – allowing us insight into the character’s personal struggle and frustrations. Similarly an impressive performance from Secareanu counterbalances this perfectly, delivering nuance and heart without a need for excessive melodrama.
Bursting with a raw sensuality and quietly simmering emotional impact, God’s Own Country is a staggering feature debut. Outstanding performances from O’Connor and Secareanu paired with authentic direction from Lee ensure this is a British classic.