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God’s Own Country, A Sympathetic Love Story About Two Farmers

The British film is so much more than a British Brokeback Mountain

There was no shortage of LGBTQ-themed films that received praise during the 2017 film festival circuit; one of those films was writer/director Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. The “gay farmer” film immediately drew comparisons to Ang Lee’s award-winning Brokeback Mountain—but the inevitable comparisons do the British film a disservice, because the 47-year-old English filmmaker’s expertly crafted cinematic debut is so much more than a film that rehashes that 2005 cowboy narrative.

Debuting to rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, God’s Own Country is the sympathetic story of two men falling in love in the isolated, rural setting of a Yorkshire farm. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) is a hardworking, hard-drinking young man reluctantly taking responsibility for the future of the family farm. He’s resentful about it, wants to disappear to see the world, and struggles with being gay, having anonymous sex wherever he can find it.

After his father, Martin (Ian Hart), has a stroke, Johnny is also the sole able-bodied man working on the farm. That is, until they hire Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a gentle migrant worker from Romania, to help work the farm at the height of the season. Initially wary of each other, Johnny and Gheorghe fall in love.

The film is visually and emotionally stunning thanks to cinematographer Joshua James Richards. There are plenty of shots that graphically depict the brutality of farm life, set against a backdrop of foggy grey skies and lush green hills.

True, there are serious parallels to Brokeback Mountain. But where God’s Own Country really differentiates itself is when Johnny and Gheorghe are sent up to Yorkshire’s isolated wind-hammered moors. The relationship deepens and turns into something more than the superficial sexual encounters Johnny is used to. The relationship goes deeper than the relationship between Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) in Brokeback, and is ultimately far more satisfying.

While the commercial success of Brokeback Mountain was a milestone for mainstream gay films, many viewers were dismayed with the fate of its star-crossed lovers. Without giving too much away, God’s Own Country mostly avoids such pitfalls. It also, thankfully, lacks a “I can’t quit you” moment.

Director and writer Francis Lee won the World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and the film opened at the 71st Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it won Best British Feature.

God’s Own Country hits theatres in Canada on November 3.

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