Directed by Francis Lee
Starring Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Ian Hart, Gemma Jones
This moody farm-set debut film from Francis Lee is based on his own experiences when he had to decide between running his family farm or going to drama school. He has now put this personal story on the big screen with God’s Own Country, a film of such atmosphere it certainly brings the viewers into its desolated environments, though one devoid of much momentum in its story.
There seems to be greatness in the film – the wonderfully natural cinematography, the strength of the lead performances, the earthliness of their relationship – but this greatness never seems to actually lift as we wonder what it’s really all for, making God’s Own Country feel a lot flatter than the hills it’s set in.
On a farm in Yorkshire, Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is reluctant to take on the growing responsibilities of farm-life as he replaces his ailing dad, Martin (Ian Hart), so he spends his down-time drinking and having casual sex with similarly aged lads. His dad then hires a Romanian immigrant, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), to work alongside his son during lambing season – from here, a tense rivalry soon becomes a more intimate relationship, one tinged with as much desperation as passion.
The relationship is a quietly fiery one, with love-making scenes more intense, passionate, and dirty than the ones in Call Me By Your Name. The actors do well with these performances, which are more physical than reliant on dialogue. There isn’t really much exploration into these characters, aside from a handful of characteristics (Johnny’s burgeoning alcoholism), and so there isn’t much of an exploration into their relationship either. This sort of minimal character-building works if there’s an involving story to go with it, but there isn’t here, so the film doesn’t know if the characters are supporting the story or the story is supporting the characters. It all results in some pretty images on the eyes, but lacking in true substance.
Johnny’s relationship with his parents serves even less to the film, as the pressures between him and his father as he is given control of the farm doesn’t truly take off in any spectacular way, even as the father’s health problems worsen. The acting from all is very impressive and helps make these characters slightly more rich and compelling than the script has allowed them to be.
God’s Own Country is involved in some ways, such as how authentically it portrays the farm-life, but it only has the bare bones of a better film. The slowness of its pacing makes it always feel it’s stuck in the first act, with the drama and conflict never going beyond what any similarly themed films have done before.
God’s Own Country plays at UWA Somerville from Mon Jan 29 – Sun Feb 4, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tues Feb 6 – Sun Feb 11, 8pm.