2017 sees the arrival of three critically acclaimed gay films . BPM from France, this one from the U.K. (at point of writing with a 99% rotten tomatoes rating) about a young Yorkshire sheep farmer and from Italy, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. While the latter also deals with first love, unlike that sugar-covered unreal gay love story, GOD’S OWN COUNTRY is a hard look at gay life – acceptance and reality, the way it happens in real life.
The film is set in Yorkshire, around Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) who lives on the family farm with his father, Martin (Ian Hart) and grandmother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones). Due to his father having suffered from a stroke, and his grandmother’s age, much of the day to day running of the farm falls to Johnny. As his friends have left for university, there is little time for socializing. What time there is, he fills drinking excessively on his own at the pub. With the lambing season fast approaching, Johnny’s father tells him that they have advertised for extra help for the farm that arrives in the form of a Romanian worker, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). When the two are sent out into an isolated place to look after the sheep (shades of Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN), the two form a relationship after some initial rough sex and hostility.
When the two return to the farm, both Derdre and Martin discover what the two have been unto resulting in Gheorghe leaving the farm. Whether Johnny will make a stand and go out to get him back takes up the rest of the film.
What makes the film work for both the gay and hetro-sexual audiences is the honesty of the portrayal of the couple’s love. The film also serves as a coming-of-age rite of passage journey for Johnny who before just engages in casual encounters. This is aided by the film’s sheep farming setting, which unlike many pictures with a farm setting, just cater to one or token farm scenes. In GOD’S OWN COUNTRY, the sheep, landscape, Yorkshire scenery and farming are in the forefront. There are many eye-opening facts that can be learnt about sheep farming from the film like a lamb dying from a breech birth.
The rough macho life of men are on display – as in the rough sex practised by Johnny. Sexual gratification can be obtained without the fuss of a second hook-up or a budding relationship. The land is just as rough, but tenderness is also present, as witnessed by Gheorghe as he takes care of a weak lamb that almost dies.
The film contains one perfect scene somewhere in the middle when Johnny and Ghoerghe sit together overlooking the beautiful yet somewhat barren Yorkshire landscape. It is a rare moment, a turning point in the life of both, when the two lovers appreciate the beauty of GOD’S OWN COUNTRY and nothing else in the world but that and their love matters.
GOD’S OWN COUNTRY is in many ways just as perfect a gay love story.