It's highly unlikely that "God's Own Country" will hit one of the screens at Vision II anytime soon, so I took a little time this week to figure out again how my old DVD player interfaced with that hulk of a television and watched it in the living room. Released in theaters during October to high acclaim, DVDs of the British production became available Jan. 30.
Every positive thing reviewers have written about it --- and there have been very few naysayers --- is true: A magnificent directorial debut by Francis Lee with exceptional performances by Josh O'Connor (as John Saxby) and Alec Secareanu (as Gheorghe) with Gemma Jones and Ian Hart in secondary roles and stunning hand-held camera work by Joshua James Richards.
If you're expecting more than superficial comparison points to "Brokeback Mountain," that beautiful but contrived and painfully heterosexualized 2005 granddaddy of big-screen gay love stories, think again. Although the new film is sufficiently self-assured to get away with a sly reference or two to the old --- the evocative nature of a shirt emptied of its occupant and just hanging there as a reminder, for example.
O'Connor is the young farmer John Saxby, isolated and emotionally chilled by circumstance --- the dramatic but remote Yorkshire landscape (referred to by some as God's Own Country), a solitary upbringing and responsibilities for a farm and its livestock that his father's disability imposes. Homosexual, too, in a predominately heterosexual world, he self-medicates with binge drinking and casual sex.
Romanian farm hand Gheorghe (Secareanu, recruited by Lee from Romanian theater), hired on for the lambing season, changes all of that --- gradually teaching Saxby how to lower his defenses, loosen up and love again.
Dialogue is sparse (the film masterfully capitalizes on the power of gesture --- a simple touch, for example), the sex is fairly graphic and that Yorkshire dialect can be a challenge for an Iowan to understand (some at Sundance suggested the film should be captioned, advice mercifully not taken). The landscape is magnificent --- foreboding or friendly, depending upon the mood of the characters.
And farm life is portrayed in a decidedly graphic manner. I mean who among us, raised with sheep, hasn't skinned a dead lamb and clothed a bottle-fed orphan in the hide hoping to convince a bereaved ewe to adopt? But not something you usually expect to see on screen.
Better yet, "God's Own Country" has a happy ending --- leaving us with the conviction that these two young men are going to do their best to build a life together in a rural setting. Who could ask for more?