By Evan Lambert
Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), the protagonist of God’s Own Country, is the kind of guy you’d hook up with in the midst of a full Tuesday night blackout. He’s taciturn and messy, and he wakes up every morning with hangover breath. He’s a proud fuckboy, and his mouth is puckered up in such a way that he constantly looks ready to blow a micropenis. For God’s sake, he can’t even muster up the eloquence to spit out “I can’t quit you” in front of his Romanian boyfriend.
And speaking of “I can’t quit you,” God’s Own Country — a contemporary tale of same-sex love in the ruggedly masculine farm culture of Yorkshire, England — is just begging to be compared to Brokeback Mountain. There’s homoerotic wrestling, a gay roll in the hay during a two-person herding mission, a memorable moment involving saliva and an asshole, sweeping hilly vistas, minimal dialogue, a long and wistful sniff of random clothing, and about a million unexplained sheep. There’s just one major difference: no one fucking dies.
With God’s Own Country, we finally have the Brokeback Mountain we deserve — a realistic, epically beautiful queer romance that refuses to make homophobia a character. Mercifully, the only challenges facing Country’s romantic protagonists are their own character flaws. When the handsome Gheorghe (pronounced “Gorgee” with two hard “g”s), materializes to help out around the farm, he upturns Johnny’s world for the better. The gentle Romanian shows Johnny that intimacy, though challenging, can be healing and rewarding — and that being little spoon can be just as fun as being big spoon. But nothing lasts forever, and … well, you’ll see.
Before God’s Own Country reveals itself to be a love story, however, it creates a bleak, chilly portrait of farm-raised masculinity. With a domineering father and demanding routine, Johnny learns to sublimate his sexuality and general longings into hard work and binge drinking. Even the Yorkshire countryside seems inaccessible, with cinematographer Joshua James Richards painting it as an unfeeling expanse of neutral no man’s land.
But one day, in the middle of a routine scuffle, Johnny and Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) realize they’d rather be punching with their penises than their fists. Just like that, the movie starts to breathe. While the film’s dialogue and score are sparse, the cast is more than capable of filling in the emotional blanks. And as the coldness of the film evaporates, the rolling expanses of Yorkshire open themselves to pain, catharsis, and ultimately joy.
Flagrantly Rated: ***** (5 out of 5 Stars)