God’s Own Country Review: Still Somehow Suppressed

Photo Credit:https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/film-reviews/96473622/gods-own-country-tender--authentic-and-at-times-extraordinarily-moving

We’ve gotten to a point in queer cinema where romances between two men are all starting to look and sound the same (with the exception of Moonlight). Don’t get me wrong, these films are still necessary to get to a more varied take on LGBTQ romances, and director Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country takes us closer than, say, this year’s critical smash Call Me by Your Name. But the film is still bookended in cliches, to the point where I thought the film might actually just be a UK adaptation of Brokeback Mountain (hey, we keep doing it to them, why can’t they do it to us?). Its middle section, though, points to a future less scared of showing contemporary audiences what a man-on-man romance can actually feel like.

We start with Johnny (Josh O’Connor) working under his parents (Gemma Jones and Ian Hart) on their farm deep in the hills of Yorkshire, where the xenophobia that made Brexit a possibility at all runs rampant. Conservative in nature, Johnny’s parents hate when he goes out, but he does anyway, and he has rough, casual sex with any boy who gives him the eyes in the bathroom, utterly devoid of intimacy. But as the old story goes, then came the one boy who changed everything, but was only meant to stay for a short while. In this case, that’s Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a migrant worker from Romania.

Their chemistry is initially cold, but they are both fairly silent men, and so, after their first encounter, they begin an affectionate language spoken through touch and sensitivity. This is where God’s Own Land really sings, never shying away from their intimacy so as to not offend more conservative audiences. O’Connor and Secareanu’s performances are more then up to the task, building a lovely, quiet chemistry that transcends cliche to become something that doesn’t even need to be spoken. That includes breaking down the toxic walls of masculinity, something Gheorghe gently introduces to Johnny simply by expressing affectionate compassion. The film is at its richest when these two are wordlessly expressing everything most films explicitly have the characters say for you.

But the third act goes through the usual will-they-won’t-they story beats, with one half of the couple leaving and the other having to go try and get them back. There are no surprises here to leave us off on to provoke any sort of after thought. The film’s tone may never bleed over itself into cliche, but the story kind of does so for it. But then you remember how real of a portrait of gay relationships the middle act is, and God‘s Own Country is able to elevate itself above the genre’s admittedly high standard. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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