I’ll admit I’ve never been super into the whole masc side of the gay scene. It’s like, what you get if you take all the liberating aspects of queerness and infect that with the worst parts of toxic masculinity. I ain’t hating, not seriously anyway, I’ve known some real solid masc dudes, but every so often you’ll encounter the shitty opinions. ‘Pride has become too disrespectful, too degenerate, it’s hurting the cause.’ or something. Those who think they’re being oh so unique by being the only right-wing queer, like Cameron legalising gay marriage against the wishes of the vast majority of his party actually indicated some sorta structural change.
But y’know, they’re great people, we just have some very different ways of dealing with our lives’ hardships. The underlying aches are still the same though. It’s why even the straights like gay romance movies, there’s something about our love which is far more pressing and urgent and alive. The very love that can elevate us is the same that puts us at risk. In a fully accepting society our stories would be as boring as everyone else’s and literally no one would have an interest in seeing a Yorkshire dales based romantic drama.
I remember my dad coming back from watching Brokeback Mountain at the cinema. I can’t remember too clear, he probably went to see it with my mother, they only did when there was some classic event movie that just everyone had to see. Somehow, although it really don’t surprise me too much, my father hadn’t heard a single thing about the content of the film, just that it was the new cowboy flick everyone was going to see. Returned saying he thought it was going to be fun, ended up just being about a coup-le of woofters. Great, even his homophobic discourse hadn’t even evolved since the seventies. I remember I really wanted to go see it but I was like eleven, couldn’t have gotten in anyway.
I bring that up because this is also a tale of a couple gay farmhands finding companionship with one another. There’s even a whole segment here concerned with tending sheep during lambing season, the two of them camping on the hillsides, away from society. Don’t get me wrong, it’s feels super different, it far more a film about toxic masculinity than internalised homophobia. Which means unlike Brokeback, which depicts the gradual breakdown of these internal barriers, this one is about how society’s incorrect assumptions about the performance of ‘male’ serves to keep us apart.
Which means it’s super hardcore, these guys fucking from just about the time they meet. Props to these two actors, Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu, both fairly new to the scene, who whip up the most extraordinary tension. So much of the time they spend out in the wilderness is basically dialogue free, working, sleeping, tending to the animals, eating the pot noodles they brought along as rations. Yet what these two manage to create is every bit as living and raw as you’d wish.
So then I gotta throw out respect to the extraordinary restraint shown by first time writer/director Francis Lee. His hand hovers lightly over the proceedings, content to give time and space for these quiet moments to play out. He don’t engage in any manipulation too blatant, he don’t inflate his drama to absurd proportions. He stays truthful to his characters at all times, letting their quiet charm invade our souls.
The only part that rings a little false is his Yorkshire, not visually, the design and cinematography in this joint is peak, but in the dialogue. When the characters open their mouths, especially the father and grandmother, cursed with the most to say, they far too often sound like the worse black country stereotypes. Their accents are pretty decent for the most part, it’s just evey line feels like it has to be the most affected rural folk patter. If y’all can imagine the redneck transposed into the stiff upper lip of an aging briton, yeah, that’s it.
It’s only a minor thing though, cos for the most part the film don’t really got too much interest for the straights. Always a great blessing, means it can turn its thematic eye to other matters. Alec Secareanu (who legit look like young Oscar Isaac, seriously it’s uncanny) plays Gheorghe, an eastern European immigrant, hired to the farm to provide some temporary help. It’s delicate, but we get enough of him, his life, his struggle, his humanity. When he arrives to the farm he’s immediately asked if he has any ‘paki blood’. Woof, hard to hear, but then the world unfolds before him. The shitty brits find room for understanding and acceptance. It shouldn’t feel radical but, seriously, in a post-Brexit Britain it does.
Also on its mind is the lack of opportunity and the growing economic hardship of rural life (especially for farmers). We saw this struggle represented earlier this year in Hope Dickson Leach’s excellent The Levelling. My father’s a farmer and, though I don’t see too much of him no more, it’s pretty clear that as a community it ain’t looking so good for them. Both of these films play with the same symbolism, the culling of a crippled calf. Neither of these films have a solution, our country’s fucked up economy can’t be solved by radical love. We need a different path, perhaps radical empathy. Over the credits of this joint we see some BFI archival footage of rural life throughout the 20th century. The message could not be clearer.
I don’t wanna spoil the ending of this movie, but it got me crying, as you’d sorta expect. Feels to me something redemptive about it, a work that despite being about toxic masculinity, homophobia, racism and economic strife manages to find the best in its characters, and the best in its world. It does this without ever excusing or dismissing the negativity, destruction or pain these things bring, instead dedicating itself to hope, to life. There ain’t a cynical frame in it.
God’s Own Country is currently screening in UK cinemas.