Set on a sheep farm amid the Yorkshire dales, Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country is a simple romance that explores the damaging isolation of life in the country and – in particular – the toll that can take on a young man who has shrunk away from any form of intimacy.
Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) is the only son of Martin Saxby (Ian Hart) – the owner of a small sheep farm who has been badly incapacitated by a stroke and is heavily reliant on his son for much of the physical management of the land and livestock. Johnny copes with the monotony of the work and the pressure of family expectations by getting blind drunk and stoned most nights at the local pub. The only intimacy he enjoys with anyone is physical – comprised of fleeting, typically very rough, sexual encounters with other gay men who he meets on trips into town.
This all changes, however, when Martin decides to hire extra help during lambing season. The arrival of Gheorge (Alec Secareanu), a migrant farm worker from Romania, represents a chance for Johnny to rediscover the emotional side of life from which he has withdrawn. There’s something truly breathtaking about the film’s direct and unsentimental look at animal husbandry – the blood and slime of birth and the struggle of a runt to live.
This combines with a similarly sober look at the physicality of sex and labour to create a distinctly Lawrentian atmosphere. Lee has spoken of how he worked with his DOP to ensure the camera would not leave the gaze of his cast: it is shot in a way that leaves the actors fully exposed. Thankfully, the performances are strong enough to withstand the camera’s unflinching gaze. The result is a remarkable debut from a director who clearly excels in close studies of human fragility.