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God’s Own Country is a Sundance standout

By Jocelyn Illing, November 30 2017 —

When I saw the trailer for God’s Own Country, it didn’t really spark my interest. Frankly, it looked like the British version of Brokeback Mountain. However, this film stands out as its own. Its central characters aren’t discovering their sexuality — they know who they are and what they desire.

A film by Francis Lee, God’s Own Country was the only British flick to be featured in the World Drama category at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Josh O’Connor gives an impeccable performance as a Yorkshire farmer named Johnny. When Johnny isn’t working on the farm, he’s either binge-drinking at the bar or engaging in anonymous sex. Things change when a Romanian migrant worker named Gheorghe, played by the smoldering Alec Secareanu, arrives at the family farm. As they work in close proximity with each other, it becomes evident that the two share a connection.

Part of what makes this film unique is its uncomfortable realism. The focus of  Johnny and Gheorghe’s relationship is on their sexual and physical attraction, rather than their emotional connection. Instead of the audience watching them get to know each other through conversation, we see them engaging in intense sexual activity. While one might prefer to see a couple meet, get to know each other, fall in love and then, maybe, have tasteful, discreet sex, real relationships don’t always play out like they do in the fantastical world of film. The reality is that life and sex are messy — a message that it seems Lee was trying to get across with this film.

Although the graphic scenes involving the leads were unpleasant at times, I found sweet and subtle moments between them, which marked Johnny’s character growth. Gheorghe teaches Johnny the little ways in which one can show affection for another. As their relationship progresses, Gheorghe tries to move away from sex in favour of more tender moments, such as touching his hand to Johnny’s face. At first, Johnny is hesitant, but he eventually realizes the thrill in the acts simplicity.

When Johnny’s dad falls ill and is taken to the hospital, Johnny uses this newfound sense of touch to express his emotions, let ting his dad know that he is there for him by holding his hand. Johnny’s character development helps balance out the explicit and sweet aspects of the film, achieving an admirable level of realism.

I did not particularly enjoy God’s Own Country, but I can’t say that I regret watching it. It gave me a new perspective on relationships that I think will help me to better understand the world. After all, life is not a fairytale.

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