With a story as stunning as the landscape in which it is filmed, God’s Own Country has been winning fans in places far from its Yorkshire setting. This tale of finding happiness in the unlikeliest of circumstances was a huge hit at this year’s Sundance and Edinburgh Film Festivals (where it was the Opening Night Gala and took the Michael Powell award for Best Feature Film), and it is still making waves at festivals around the globe.
Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is a sheep farmer suffocated by the small town where he lives, and the responsibilities of working on his family farm. The ill-health of his father leads to the seasonal employment of Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a mild-mannered worker from Romania. The two fall in love, for the first time offering a future that Johnny can be excited about, but one that also conflicts with the path his family has set out for him.
A bold new talent behind the camera is always something to be excited about, and writer/director Francis Lee has deservedly received widespread critical acclaim for his debut. Lee has drawn on his own upbringing, and that authenticity is the key to the film’s quality. The sweeping vistas set the stage for a story about the redemptive power of love, where the right person can turn any situation on its head. Johnny is lost before he meets Gheorghe, and their relationship opens doors that he had long assumed were closed to him.
Key to any on-screen romance is the connection of the actors, and O’Connor and Secareanu have that in droves. Johnny is a mass of restrained emotion, whose world opens up when he meets someone who understands who he is. His chemistry with Gheorghe is never overplayed, which makes it feel strikingly genuine. There are no long-winded, insincere speeches, but you never for one moment doubt their passion.
They are joined by two veteran actors in Ian Hart and Gemma Jones, who play Johnny’s father and grandmother. The pair give a moving portrayal of parental concern, torn between the needs of the farm and the obvious desire for Johnny to spread his wings.
The fifth star is, of course, Yorkshire. Both the harshness and the beauty of the countryside are captured with almost documentary-like precision. Every blade of grass, every brisk morning, and every utterance is crafted from the point of view of a local. It’s a love letter that eschews the rose-tinted spectacles, which makes it all the more affectionate.
God’s Own Country is undoubtedly one of the standout British films of the year, and shines a spotlight on several newcomers who deserve attention, while showcasing a region that is nowhere near as celebrated as it should be.Find your cinema and book tickets