Sex, sheep, silences and small steps towards a happier life define this confident and authentic-feeling British indie debut. ‘God’s Own Country’ tells of a young farmer’s romantic awakening on the windswept Yorkshire Moors. But man-of-a-few-grunts Johnny (Josh O’Connor, a terrific performance) is not a happy soul. He lives a life of tension with his sick dad (Ian Hart) and solid, housekeeping gran (Gemma Jones), and struggles to keep the family farm going while binge-drinking at night and grabbing the odd sexual encounter with other men, without addressing at home or even within himself that he’s gay.
Change comes, gradually, with the arrival of Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a robust and dashing migrant worker from Romania who arrives to help during lambing season. ‘Are you half-Paki?’ asks Johnny, before tagging him a ‘gypo’ and playing out that age-old ritual of aggression preceding something more tender and, perhaps, lasting. There’s an earthy, unembarrassed sex scene in the mud, turning the idea of a coy roll in the hay into something much more raw and real. What threatens to be a story of perpetual misery begins to feel like one of hope.
Writer-director Francis Lee has drawn on his own farming background and his film is full of convincing detail. The lack of chat feels especially truthful. This is a world of few words, although there’s a very moving conversation towards the end between Johnny and his dad. It’s a gently romantic film, but it’s never pretty. It unfolds under grey, blustery spring skies; as lambs emerge blinking and unsteady into the world, so too does this young man’s nervous, raw sexuality.