Dir: Francis Lee | Panorama | Contemporary World Cinema | UK | 2017 | 104 mins
Wednesday, Oct 11, 11:30 a.m. | International Village 10
The rolling valleys of Yorkshire, God’s own country, are beautiful but lonely.
So it is for Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), who lives and toils on his ailing father’s farm by day and numbs his daily existence with alcohol and meaningless sex. He is miserable and bitter and frustrated. Enter Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secăreanu), who is hired to help out during the lambing season. Through their time together, Gheorghe teaches Johnny that his life doesn’t have to be this way — that, despite his bleak and barren setting, he can find intimacy and, ultimately, love. As director Francis Lee has said, “Heaven is what you make it.”
Lee’s award-winning debut, God’s Own Country, is an abruptly moving love story, showcasing the desolate beauty of the Yorkshire farming landscape. It offers a candid view into the working life of a farm, not shying away from the graphic reality of lambing, producing collective gasps from a (one presumes) largely urban-dwelling audience. The camera close-ups, interspersed with some stunning panoramas, invoke such an intimate feel to the film, from the cycles of birth and death on the farm to the growing emotional intimacy and raw sensuality between Johnny and Gheorghe. The music in the film is extremely sparse, instead creating an encapsulating soundscape which heightens this feeling of intimacy.
O’Connor and Secăreanu portray two very believable characters, and we also see some poignant acting from Ian Hart who plays Johnny’s father. We get an injection of humour from Gemma Jones’s no-nonsense, yet witty portrayal of Johnny’s Nan. The dialogue itself is also fairly minimal — Lee has chosen each word with care and allows the film itself to do the rest of the talking.
As a Yorkshire lass, I loved the number of “Yorkshireisms” that Lee got into the script — of course, they had to get “off t’pub” in there somewhere.