'God's Own Country' movie review: A quiet, moving love story
The similarities between the British drama "God's Own Country" (opening in additional theaters Nov. 3) and "Brokeback Mountain" only go as far as the basic premise. This patient drama is more nuanced and less melodramatic than Ang Lee's classic.
In short: Farmhand Johnny labors on his family's farm in Northern England during the day and binge drinks during the night -- until migrant worker Gheorghe arrives on the farm, sparking a relationship between the two men.
"Country" is a confident work that lacks virtually any underlying score and has only the minimal amount of dialogue - and still manages to tell a dimensional, compassionate story. The film's quiet moments - of Johnny toiling on the farm and the refuge he finds in getting blackout drunk - paints a picture of an embittered, isolated and guarded young man. Where other films have resorted to heavy-handed and manipulative storytelling devices, "Country" has a humane and light touch.
Like all truly great films, "God's Own Country" is rooted firmly in exploring Johnny's identity - his casual relationships, his abrasive relationship with his parents and reconciling his personal ambitions with his obligations to the family farm. While the gay relationship aspect of "Country" is core to the film, it is not the movie's sole defining feature - "Country" is a relationship drama first and foremost.
Writer-director Francis Lee has crafted a tactile film that makes the audience feel the stark cold of the countryside and the cold wet, mud that Johnny and Gheorghe trudge through in their daily work. This underlines the hard labor Johnny does day and day out - a daily grind that he endures with little familial warmth in his home and even less hope for his future. It's this relative bleakness that one can understand why a character would crawl into the bottle each night - and how an unexpected warmth can change everything.
Animal people be warned: there are some unflinching scenes of farm life that are pretty graphic. Even these hard-to-watch moments are composed with a sympathetic tone - in a way that does not shy away from the sometimes harsh realities of raising livestock but also accentuates the empathetic heart of its characters. For a film with its share of blood and doesn't throw around flowery language, Lee has crafted a beautiful story of love on multiple levels.
Final verdict: This British gem is a beautifully understated, quiet and emotionally genuine work.
"God's Own Country" is playing in select cities Nov. 3. This British drama is unrated and has a running time of 104 minutes. This film screened during the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.