With “God’s Own Country” (Samuel Goldwyn Films/Orion), out actor turned writer/director Francis Lee has crafted one of the most impressive, if somewhat unsettling, debut features of 2017. As the sun rises over the main house of a farm in Yorkshire, England, we hear and then see Johnny (Josh O’Connor) vomiting into a toilet. He’s sick from binge-drinking the night before and his mother Deidre (Gemma Jones) lets Johnny know that he kept her and his father Martin (Ian Hart) up half the night with his being sick.
The livestock on the farm includes cattle and sheep and it seems that the work never ends. Martin is in rapidly declining health which leaves all of the work to Johnny. Therefore, it’s not all that surprising that he would regularly drink himself into oblivion at a local pub at the end of the day.
Among Johnny’s many farm duties are assisting with the birthing of calves and lambs. He also takes cattle to auction. While at one auction he hooks up with a cute blonde auctioneer (Harry Lister Smith). Not interested in anything more than a quickie, he turns down the guy’s offer to get a pint.
Unfortunately, while Johnny was at the auction, tragedy strikes in the form of a dead calf. This only makes the already unpleasant Martin even nastier to him. To remedy the situation, Johnny hires Romanian migrant Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) as a farmhand. At first, Johnny is as cruel and disrespectful to Gheorghe as his father is to him. He makes racist comments and thinks nothing of insulting Gheorghe on a regular basis, calling him “gypsy” and such.
He’d never actually say it to him, but Johnny is impressed by Gheorghe’s work ethic and abilities. He takes some of Gheorghe’s suggestions seriously, including the one about making cheese from the sheep’s milk. It also becomes clear that Johnny is attracted to Gheorghe and one afternoon, the sexual tension reaches its peak. What begins as a physical fight eventually morphs into a brutal sex scene.
Following this encounter, a kind of bonding takes place between the two. Gheorghe teaches Johnny to be more passionate. Initially, it feels like we are just waiting for Johnny’s parents to walk in on them. But a scene where Deidre discovers a used condom on the floor in Johnny’s room indicates that they might be more accepting than expected, approving in their own peculiar way.
A series of conflicts arise. Martin has a stroke and is hospitalized. At the pub with Gheorghe, Johnny, who becomes a different person when drunk, gets wasted and proceeds to have sex with another guy in the loo. Gheorghe packs his bags and leaves.
Johnny is at a loss after Gheorghe’s departure. When he eventually boards a bus and travels to the larger farm where Gheorghe has found employment, you know that an old-fashioned romantic reunion is in the making and you won’t be disappointed.
Subtitles would have been more than a little helpful as the Yorkshire dialect is thick as mud. Also, the depiction of some of the activities on the farm (what Gheorghe does with the pelt of a dead lamb to save the life of another lamb, for example), isn’t for the faint of heart.