God's Own Country: NZIFF Review
Director Francis Lee's intimate and engrossing God's Own Country may have moments of Brokeback Mountain to draw comparison to, but it's actually a great deal more emotional than that.
Set on a remote farm in the Yorkshire Dales, it's the tale of John (Josh O'Connor), a man who's angry at his lot in life, angry at his father (played with wonderful subtlety by a low key Ian Hart), angry at being stuck in a small village and angry that he can't be who he wants.
Out drunk every night, yet still having to come back to his chores on the farm, the self-destructive John is further enraged at the arrival of a farm-hand Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), whose arrival is necessitated by the failing health of his father.
Forced onto the mountain to cope with lambing season, the antagonism grows until it boils over into something burgeoning...
Unlike the aforementioned Ang Lee film, God's Own Country is a sensitively-portrayed reward in patience, delivering a film that's rich in resonance and is a masterclass in subtlety.
From the stunning misty vistas to the genuinely oppressive feel of the farm and the veritable cold nipping at your bones from off the screen, Lee's languid camera and pacing brings to bear a story that's intensely moving and ultimately uplifting.
But that's not say the road to pastoral burgeoning romance is paved with gold.
And it's equally not to say that Lee takes an easy route to tell the tale, but he wisely chooses to avoid tension and cliche for drama's sake and . Using a precision of shots, and perhaps a sparsity of language, as well as not resorting to dramatic tropes greatly lifts God's Own Country into a film which aches as it unspools.
Both O'Connor and Secareanu bring great depth to the relationships, their own pasts and make the whole thing feel real. Equally, John's parents, played wonderfully by Hart and Gemma Jones shine with the less-is-more approach. Jones in particular has a wonderful moment involving tears and ironing that says more than any dialogue could; and for such a combatant relationship, Hart imbues the father with both a sense of family and responsibility that makes it hard to vilify any of his behaviour.
Bathed in bucolic frustrations, as well as acknowledgement of the hardship of farming and its mental toll, God's Own Country's tenderness and honesty is evident throughout.
From Lee's shots of the land and the verite of the harshness of rearing life in the country, to the dialogue that says so much with so little, this is a film of such innate emotional fragility and beauty that it will leave you aching and also alive from beginning to end.