Opening today in Irish cinemas, the closing film at this year’s GAZE, God’s Own Country has been called the British Brokeback Mountain by some reviewers, and trumped as the new Weekend by others. While it’s neither, watching God’s Own Country, it’s hard not to think of the former’s simmering gay romance, isolated within the natural world, and the latter’s slow-burning sexual realism.
The tale is a simple boy-meets-boy romance; there are no departures from usual structure, but while the way it plays out has a sense of inevitability, the film is made unusual by the setting and the nature of that romance. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is a lonely young sheep farmer trying to maintain the business in the wake of his father’s stroke. Angry at his lot, he’s alienated from his former friends who have moved on with their lives, and has disconnected, wordless sex with another farmer at a livestock show. When lambing season arrives, Johnny’s father (Ian Hart) employs a Romanian farm labourer, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) to help out. Johnny sees this as a comment on his own abilities, and from the outset treats Gheorghe with racist contempt, but when the two go camping in the dales to do the lambing, sexual tension ensues. As the two men slowly get to know each other, Johnny’s anger begins to thaw.
Mucky Outdoor Coupling
Along with Johnny’s ailing, frustrated father, and his hard-nosed grandmother (Gemma Jones), the unrelenting Yorkshire landscape is another character in this film, and shades of Wuthering Heights are never too far away as the relationship at its centre unfolds amid windswept dales, freezing nights, bloody, messy livestock, and mucky outdoor coupling that’s about as real a depiction of gay sex as I’ve seen in the cinema. The dialogue is minimal, there’s not a hint of sentimentality on show, so it’s left to the landscape, and a quartet of deft performances to give glimpses of the rumbling emotional landscape beneath the rudimentary rural living.
Johnny’s emotional unravelling is echoed in his father and grandmother as we begin to catch sight of the hearts that lie beneath their harsh, taciturn exteriors. The great chemistry between O’Connor and Secareanu helps bridge the gap between showing and telling, we know what’s going on inside each of them without them ever having to speak it. Until the last scene that is, one that may have you in tears.
There’s a moment when, left alone, Gheorghe cooks a simple meal for Johnny, and places it on the table decorated with a flower in a jar, and it speaks volumes. God’s Own Country is not a film about being gay – the fact that the central relationship is a gay one only barely skims the plot – rather it’s a film about how our true selves can become obfuscated by the circumstances life throws at us, and how simple acts of love can shine a healing light on that truth. As such, it’s a much more satisfactory film than Brokeback Mountain, in which gay love could never heal.
‘Gods Own Country’ opens in selected cinemas today.
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