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With: Josh O'Connor, Alec Secareanu, Ian Hart, Gemma Jones, Melanie Kilburn, Liam Thomas, Patsy Ferran
Written by: Francis Lee
Directed by: Francis Lee
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 104
Date: 11/10/2017

God's Own Country (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Woolly Bully

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A feature writing and directing debut for Francis Lee, God's Own Country invites comparison to Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, in that it tells the story of two young farm hands who become attracted to one another and act on that attraction while in a remote section of land, away from prying eyes. Whereas Ang Lee's film was beautiful and tentative, with several detours into subplots, Francis Lee's film is far grittier and more direct.

Both films include sex scenes infused with anger, as if the young men were as overcome by rage as well as lust (or rage at the realization of lust), but the former film hides its scene and this one lets it be shown.

God's Own Country is extremely gritty, and, as it is set in Yorkshire, is sometimes difficult to decipher the thick accents. But, essentially, Johnny (Josh O'Connor) lives and works on a sheep farm with his stern father (Ian Hart), who has suffered a stroke, and his grandmother (Gemma Jones). When he can, Johnny drinks heavily at the pub and has quick, rough sex with strangers. But when he neglects a pregnant cow, his father hires a new helper, a Romanian named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu).

Gheorghe is wise and cool-headed and when he and Johnny are sent deep into the farm to repair a fence, they make love. It's the first time Johnny has connected with anyone, but, upon returning to civilization, he falls back into his old behavior, and finds there is a price to pay. Then, when his father's health grows worse, he discovers compassion and caring for another person.

The movie is clearly a personal, passion project for Lee, but despite the graphic, rough male sex and the many scenes of yucky farm work (hands inserted deep into animal rectums, birthing scenes, dead animals, etc.), it employs a surprisingly safe story arc. The meet-cute, deception, break-up, groveling, and reuniting cycle wouldn't be out of place in a scrubbed, vanilla Hollywood romantic comedy.

Of course, it is a rarity seeing a gay-themed romance such as this one, and the novelty makes it worth seeing (especially in this particular time that seems hostile to anyone who is not male, white, straight, rich, and right-wing). Moreover, the movie must be commended for attempting a lead character that is not entirely likable; it's only through Gheorghe that we discover something worthwhile in the sad, suffering Johnny.

All in all, this is an interesting movie, and a good one, but it doesn't come as close to greatness as the other gay-themed movie currently being discussed, Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name. To go there, it needs a little less focus on plot and a little more on life.

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