At the crack of dawn, a light switches on in an old stone farmhouse in the English countryside. A harsh wind blows while a soft light of early morning brings in a new day. There’s no rest for the wicked, growing up on a farm. Something that is epitomised in the young son of a farmer who lives a dreary, monotonous existence between his responsibilities and getting soused every evening until late night. For Johnny Saxby, there is little room for joy. Even when he has a brief tryst with another man he meets at a farmer’s market, the love making is brutal and angry as if he performs it more for the punishment of himself and his lover instead of for pleasure.
Francis Lee, who directs God’s Own Country, wanted the key actors to attend a farm boot camp in preparation for the role so that they could experience the weight that this kind of work and life feels like. The result is a realistic portrayal of the everyday chores of a farmstead, intertwined with the story of a young man who feels more and more caged in by life in the ‘real world’. With nothing exciting to look forward to, Johnny numbs himself to the harsh reality of his lot. His life becomes an endless cycle of working, getting drunk, and being sick in the morning. Until his father, played by Ian Hart, hires a temporary farmhand to help take on some of the work.
Gheorghe, played by Alec Secareanu, is a Romanian itinerant worker who proves to be an adept farmhand and watches Johnny from afar. His silence, despite the other young man’s curt quips and put-downs, slowly reveal a strong yet sensitive character. The way he cares for animals, especially when helping the birthing of runt lamb, and later his care of Johnny when he injures himself, show his charm and gentleness. The men are thrown together out of circumstance, but what starts as two different souls with different emotional natures changes as Gheorghe and Johnny begin to warm to each other.
The film is first and foremost a love story between two men, but it also doubles as a coming-of-age message of hope for lost souls that long for a deep connection that can save them from the loneliness of the harrowed land on which they live. J.K.A. Short
‘God’s Own Country’ is in cinemas now.