Review: God’s Own Country (2017)

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God’s Own Country – chosen to open this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival – depicts a harsh existence for young Johnny (Josh O’Connor), whose life taking care of his family’s farm on the Yorkshire moors has taken its toll both physically and emotionally. He’s battered, bruised, detached, wiling the lonely nights away with heavy drinking and casual sex. The scenes towards the beginning are harsh, made so by director Francis Lee’s preference for close-ups to reveal Johnny’s every inch of suffering and the unrelenting sound of the piercing wind. He’s initially cold towards Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a Romanian farmhand hired to help him with repairs. But when the two spend a few nights bunkered in the bitter cold mending brick walls and tending to sheep, they succumb to their desires, forcing Johnny to decide a path in which to follow. Lee’s film is every bit as harsh as the environment, though the narrative rejects coming-of-age cliches, instead being about personal struggle and real love. Johnny’s arc is one that’s familiar but also unique. His attitude and issues with himself stem deep, and the progression of his relationship with Alec reflect that it isn’t easy for him to trust in anyone. Beauty lies within, however, and God’s Own Country is almost heartbreaking in its authenticity and ability to delve deep under the skin and come out the other end with a sense of hope and optimism for its characters, who are expertly portrayed by O’Connor and Secareanu.

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