God’s Own Country

Jun 19, 2017 | Posted by in 2017, EIFF

The 71st annual Edinburgh International Film Festival opens with Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country; the story of a Yorkshire Farmer who struggles to confront the truth about himself.

Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) is immediately established as someone who has a less than ideal life. He is essentially stuck in his situation due to his father’s declining health and it’s clear that he isn’t the least bit content. As such he’s very self destructive as he can only rationalise his life by spending his nights drinking too much and engaging in casual sex with other men.

One thing the film does really well is showing how unpleasant Johnny’s life is. The work he has to do looks hard and gruelling, the setting is largely unappealing to look at and there’s a harshness to the interactions he has with his family that adds to the overall bleakness of the situation.

All of this is designed to help the viewer understand why Johnny initially seems so unlikeable. He is resentful of everything that has happened to him up until this point so lashes out by behaving the way he does. It’s essentially a coping mechanism that he has and it’s understandable since the film does a good job establishing the context around his behaviour. Basically it feels like Johnny’s life is a dead end and the implication exists that he isn’t comfortable admitting his sexuality due to the are he lives in being far from progressive.

Johnny’s life changes when a Romanian Migrant Worker named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) is taken on to help Johnny with his work. At first their interactions are tense with an undercurrent of racism on Johnny’s part but they quickly embark on an intense romantic relationship that grows more serious as the film progresses.

God's Own CountryIt’s framed as something unhealthy at first as there’s the sense that the connection is purely physical and is founded on being somewhat abusive. As the film progresses the interactions between Johnny and Gheroghe begin to soften as they warm up to one another. It’s important that the actors are able to sell this and they definitely do. It’s clear when it transitions to something gentler and the journey towards that feels organic.

I found it especially striking that all of this is achieved with very little dialogue. Johnny is a man of few words most likely because his life has become so mundane that he probably doesn’t feel like speaking unless it is absolutely necessary. As such it’s difficult to understand how Johnny feels about Gheorghe as he says so little to him. It’s very impressive to see this relationship evolve mostly through body language and action rather than open declarations of feelings.

Outside of that, the film builds its world wonderfully. A lot of effort goes into showing the viewer exactly what is involved in Johnny’s day to day work life. We see the endless hard work that is involved in what he does an how physically draining it is. Those of a delicate constitution -myself included- should be prepared of detailed scenes showing Lambs being born and some other details that may be considered too graphic for some. It all adds to the understanding of the world these characters inhabit and the problems that are associated with that world.

The film isn’t without its issues. A subplot about one of Johnny’s friends who left for University is raised and dropped in the blink of an eye despite seeming significant at one point. The ending doesn’t quite land as it didn’t quite feel that a particular character would make the decision that they ultimately make. It feels at odds with the rest of the film and definitely stands out.


An interesting character study that does a really good job building the world it inhabits and organically developing a relationship from unhealthy and abusive to something more stable. A lot is accomplished with very little dialogue adding to the routine nature of Johnny’s life since he has very little to say that hasn’t previously been said. The actors do a great job of developing this relationship mainly using body language and action rather than dialogue making it feel unique in the way it is presented. The ending is perhaps a little too neat and doesn’t track with the rest of the film but on the whole it does hang together.

  • 7.5/10
    God's Own Country - 7.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • an organically developed relationship
  • lots accomplished with very little dialogue
  • excellent world building

Rise Against…

  • the awkwardly dropped subplot
  • an ending that doesn’t quite work
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